Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 02:17 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 02:17 | SYDNEY

More Pacific partnerships...with China?


Jenny Hayward-Jones


3 April 2008 08:28

In his speech to the Brookings Institution on 31 March, Prime Minister Rudd suggested  China should be encouraged to work with other donors to develop appropriate OECD-consistent norms for development assistance delivery. He added that, as getting assistance to Pacific Island nations on a stable footing was crucial for Australia, he would be happy to partner with China in some pilot projects.

If this is an indication that Rudd considers China an ally rather than a strategic competitor in Australia’s traditional sphere of influence, it will represent a break in Australian foreign policy.  Australian suspicions about the real value of Chinese aid to the Pacific and concern that the competition between China and Taiwan for diplomatic recognition has destabilised the region would have to be set aside, at least temporarily, while Australia works with China.

China is an important player in the Pacific Islands region and could prove to be a more significant challenge to Australia’s interests in the region than the Australian  Government is ready to admit. Engagement with China in the region may not succeed in managing this challenge, but it should be tried, and the field of development assistance is probably less controversial than others. A pilot Australia-China aid project in the Pacific could be an interesting test of China’s capacity to be what Robert Zoellick called a 'responsible stakeholder'.  I suspect, though, that such experiments with China may have to concentrate on visible infrastructure, with ribbons that can be cut by Ministers in festive opening ceremonies, rather than complex institution-strengthening projects, focused on improving governance.