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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Downer warn China over influence in the South Pacific

Australia has warned China to ensure that its increasing interest in the South Pacific does not undermine efforts to fight corruption and poor governance in the region.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said although China was entitled to build relations with countries such as Papua New Guinea, any financial aid or assistance needed to complement Australia's existing $870 million-a-year aid program in the region.

Over the past few years, China has built its diplomatic ties with PNG, Solomon Islands and, before last year's coup, Fiji on the back of increasing trade and investment, particularly in the mining sector.

On Friday, PNG Prime Minister Michael Somare met Chinese President Hu Jintao in a bilateral discussion that followed similar meetings this year. It confirmed PNG's resurrected "look north" policy while its relationship with Australia has been souring.

Australia and PNG have not had formal diplomatic contact – neither ministers nor leaders at the APEC forum. Mr Downer told the Ten Network's Meet the Press program that Australia was comfortable with China's increasing aid in the South Pacific as long as it maintained its current focus on infrastructure programs.

"Our only request is that they reinforce the work we're doing there to try to assist with governance and don't in any way undermine it, and make sure that they run strong anti-corruption programs and good governance programs through their aid, not the contrary," Mr Downer said.

Sir Michael and Mr Hu discussed further aid to PNG in exchange for greater investment in PNG's mineral and gas sector.

Source: The Post-Courier

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