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The Cook Islands’ engagement with China is “firm” and the two countries have had formal diplomatic relations for 20 years now, says deputy prime minister Mark Brown.
Brown made the comments in response to a new U.S intelligence report accusing China of currying favour with numerous Pacific countries through bribery, infrastructure investments, and diplomatic engagement with local leaders.
The report accused the growing superpower of pursing the construction of military and other facilities in the region in return.
Brown said the U.S intelligence report compiled by their intelligence service by nature viewed foreign affairs from a threat or adversary perspective.
He said the Cook Islands was a small peaceful country that had limited value to either party of what is a geopolitical contest between the world’s biggest economy and the world fastest growing economy.
“Our engagement with China is firm. We have had formal diplomatic relations with China for 20 years now. As I understand it we have not signed any formal diplomatic relationship with the USA,” Brown said.
“China has an interest in expanding its global outreach and has offered many Pacific islands development assistance on a bilateral basis.
“Much of this development assistance has been the provision of critical economic and social infrastructure that could not be funded or provided by the more traditional development partners prevalent in the pacific prior to China’s emergence in the early 2000s.
“Many of our fellow Pacific island countries are facing rising population with large youth unemployment and few economic prospects and welcome a new development partner less insistent on policy reforms or social engineering as preconditions to aid.”
Brown said he was comfortable that the country could manage their relationship with China.
He said support in infrastructure had been welcomed in the past.
“In view of recent events with the quality of projects related to public buildings and stage one of Te Mato Vai, we will be reviewing very careful any further involvement,” Brown said.
“I am comfortable that we have sufficient legislative and policy safeguards on our debt levels.
“We manage debt to China together with all other debt owing under a fiscal ratio. We do not allow debt to exceed 35 per cent of GDP. Gross debt including
Crown and SOE debt estimated at June 2019 is about $140 million (US$96 million). Only 24 per cent of our total debt is held by China EXIM Bank. The rest is held by ADB (Asian Development Bank).”
Brown also said China was just one of many countries who were active in the Pacific as development partner, providing development assistance thought grants, concessionary loans or technical assistance.
“Rest assured that all development assistance is not altruistic, aid or development assistance is a reflection of a country’s foreign policy which is in its own right is self-interest,” he said.
Brown added the region should in fact be thankful for the emergence of China in the Pacific region as it had been a driver for increased assistance from other countries interested in maintaining parity.
“For example, last year, Australia increased their aid budget by $200 million (US$144 million), the UK announced that they were returning, New Zealand did a Pacific Reset. “Recent time has seen new development partners emerging in the region including, India, Indonesia, Russia, among others, each providing varying degrees of useful development assistance to our region at the same time pushing for their own self-interest.”
Brown said each Pacific island country through its own governance mechanism and engaged with China on its own terms.
“China remains the largest trading partner for our largest regional neighbours New Zealand and Australia for both imports and experts.
“It is reassuring that if these long-term neighbours can maintain amicable trade and diplomatic relations with China, so can the Pacific islands.” .
SOURCE: COOK ISLANDS NEWS/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
Media Helping Media