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Australia's PNG aid: Embracing China

Australia's PNG aid: Embracing China
Published 29 Jul 2013 

Dr Philippa Brant is a Lowy Institute Research Associate.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has made no secret of his desire for a realignment of Australian aid. In his address to the Lowy Institute last November he called for a greater focus on infrastructure development. O'Neill is claiming the new asylum-seeker aid deal as a win in that regard.

Reading Stephen Howes' post on the DevPolicy blog on the aid implications of the 'PNG Solution', I was struck by how the new aid announcements could easily be mistaken for 'China Aid' rather than AusAID. Australia has pledged to assist with the new courthouse in Port Moresby, construction of a hospital in Lae and construction of the Ramu-Madang highway.

China is well known for its funding of government buildings and roads around the Pacific, though it has been rightly criticised for not considering maintenance provisions.

The Moresby courthouse project could offer an opportunity here: under the recent Australia-China Development Cooperation MoU, there could be scope to bring China in as an observer right from the beginning. This wouldn't be a joint project (like the trilateral arrangement in the Cook Islands) but a more informal arrangement whereby Chinese embassy staff could be involved in planning discussions.

This does of course depend on the desires of the PNG Government and the willingness of both AusAID and Chinese officials. But with an increasing number of China-funded infrastructure projects on the cards (through the multi-billion kina China EXIM loan) and the apparent 'realignment' of Australian aid towards PNG's 'high impact' priorities, this could sow the seeds for greater cooperation and perhaps a jointly funded project in the future.

It is in the interests of the people of PNG that their development partners are working together to help them achieve sustainable development outcomes.

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