By Simone Rensch (Pacific Finance International)
China’s foreign ministry has denied trying to exert control over the Pacific through aid after a think-tank revealed it has become the second-largest donor in the region.
The Asian mega economy has provided $1.3bn worth of donations and loans to the Pacific since 2011, figures from Australia’s Lowy Institute, sponsored by Australian Aid revealed.
This comes amid accusations from China’s neighbours that it is trying to grow influence in the region as it emerged the country is planning on building military bases in the South China Sea.
It has also been criticised for its approach to aid for being too focused on ‘show off’ infrastructure.
China’s spending is almost 9% of total aid donations in the South Pacific.
The Chinese foreign ministry sent a statement to Reuters, which said: “As a developing country, China fully understands the special difficulty Pacific island countries face in achieving sustainable development.”
It added that it provides “what aid it can on the basis of respecting the wishes of the island nations without attaching any political conditions, vigorously promoting socio-economic development”.
China has pledged nearly $6bn – a third of all the funds promised to the Pacific’s 14 aid recipients by 62 donors – but it only spent around 21% of this amount between 2011 and 2018.
During the same period, Australia has spent $6.6bn, which makes up roughly 44% of all donations to the region.
China would only overtake Australia as the biggest donor to the region if it follows through with the billions of aid promised.
Director of Lowy’s Pacific Island Programme Jonathan Pryke said earlier this year that China’s approach to aid, where the government often goes “straight to ministerial level with few strings attached”, undermines the strategic planning of government agencies.
Pryke said that although China’s aid commitments could overtake Australia’s in the near future, he was sceptical that the spending would match the promises.
He told CNN: “China is talking a big game in terms of its commitments to the region and that’s concentrated on one country, Papua New Guinea.