China-Australia relations deteriorate further following PNG spat

Published on
January 28, 2021

China has criticized what it called Australian interference in a Chinese fisheries investment in Papua New Guinea.

The People’s Daily newspaper, the official paper of the Chinese Communist Party, printed what it said were comments made on Facebook by a Papua New Guinean official claiming Australia sought to get the island to withdraw from an agreement signed with Fujian Zhong Hong Yu Ye Co, a Chinese fishing company. The company had pledged an investment in a “comprehensive multifunctional fishery industrial park” in western Papua New Guinea.

In a Facebook post, PNG Western Province Governor Taboi Awi Yoto took umbrage with a request from an Australian delegation that he said asked for the agreement with Zhong Hong to be abandoned.

“We will not bend,” Yoto wrote, according to the People’s Daily, which reported on the Facebook post, as Facebook is banned in China. Yoto said the fisheries park would ensure “better access to the biggest markets without middle man cutting us out.”

Yoto also noted that Australia purchases fruit from Fiji, despite PNG’s closer proximity.

Editorializing, the People’s Daily said Australia would not “thwart” the deal, which it described as beneficial in curbing Papuan “impoverishment.”

Tensions have risen between China and Australia after Australian officials called for an investigation of the COVID-19 outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China in the beginning of 2020. In November 2020, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce asked the country’s seafood importers to cancel all orders from Australia.

Recently, Papua New Guinea has turned away its historically tight bonds with Australia and welcomed Chinese investment in its fisheries sector, with government officials praising a project announced in 2018 by Fujian Zhonghong Fishery Company Limited to build a cannery in East New Great Britain, and fisheries access agreements signed with Zhong Hong Fishery Co. and Wenzhou Da Zhou Distant Water Fishing Co.

“China is the world’s biggest consumer market and a vast opportunity for Papua New Guinea,” Xue Bing, Chinese ambassador in Port Moresby, said at the Fujian Zhong Hong Yu Ye Co. signing ceremony in November 2020, according to a statement from the Chinese Commerce Ministry.

Photo courtesy of Christine Gneh/Shutterstock

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