If the region – pivotal in the Pacific battles of World War II – is
a strategic treasure, PNG is one of its jewels. It controls large
swaths of ocean, is rich in mineral resources and is close to both
U.S. military bases on the island of Guam and to Australia.
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Workers are putting the finishing touches on a Beijing-funded boulevard designed to showcase Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) capital to visiting world leaders at this month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Critics say the six-lane road – complete with wide, illuminated footpaths – is emblematic of a regional power play whereby donor countries vie for influence with show-stopper gifts, even as deeper problems plague the Pacific nation.
Australia, PNG’s traditional partner and a close Washington ally, is lifting aid and has plowed more than A$120 million ($86.5 million) into APEC, seeking to keep its sway over its neighbor.
Allan Bird, a parliamentarian and governor of PNG’s second largest province, said the boulevard outside parliament house had little practical benefit. “Whatever the Chinese government spent on it, it could have been better spent somewhere else, buying medicine or building a school,” Bird told Reuters.
Bird said such gifts put pressure on traditional partners such as Australia to place less restrictions around donated funds and refrain from criticizing PNG’s own spending, which controversially includes buying 40 Maseratis and three Bentleys for APEC.
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