Marape: Chinese stability ensures global economy has a stable outlook

Photo: Office of the Prime Minister, PNG

Beijing’s newly appointed special envoy to the Pacific has underlined China’s investment in infrastructure during his first official trip to the region, as Australia and the United States step up efforts to keep island nations in their orbit. 

Qian Bo, the envoy, met with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape and Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko on Tuesday after visiting the Federated States of Micronesia last week for a meeting with President David Panuelo and other officials. 

“Studying and learning the Chinese language is very important because China represents the future of the world,” Qian said in a speech to students at the Beijing-built Butuka Academy in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.

As part of his visit, reporters from local news organisations were given a tour of the school, including observing a Mandarin lesson. The school, which opened in 2018, has about 2,700 students from kindergarten to high school age.

During the past two decades China has become a source of infrastructure, loans and aid for economically-lagging island nations in the Pacific as it seeks to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and gain allies in international organisations such as the United Nations.

Beijing also hopes to establish a military presence in the Pacific in a challenge to American dominance, some analysts say. Last year, the Asian superpower signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, alarming the United States and Australia, which have stepped up their efforts to remain dominant powers in the region.

Qian and Tkatchenko had a private 50-minute meeting at the school. Their scheduled press conference, which was part of Papua New Guinea’s official programme for the visit, did not take place.

Qian met with Marape later in the day and invited him to address a government event in China later this month, according to a statement from Marape’s office. China’s Foreign Ministry hasn’t said if Qian is visiting other Pacific island countries after Papua New Guinea.

“This is the best school in the Pacific in terms of quality infrastructure and lots of smiling faces,” Qian told the students.

China’s government had announced plans for the special envoy role in mid-2022, when then-Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited the region in a failed effort to get 10 island nations to sign up to a trade and security deal. 

Beijing revealed the appointment of Qian, who was China’s ambassador to Fiji, in mid-February in response to a question from Chinese state media during a regular press conference at the foreign ministry. 

Marape’s statement said he had yet to officially accept the speaking invitation delivered by Qian. He praised Chinese President Xi Jinping and welcomed the recent endorsement of a third term for Xi under China’s one-party authoritarian system.

“Chinese stability ensures [the] global world economy has a stable outlook. That is the contribution his re-election has given to the world,” Marape said.

No new Chinese initiatives were announced during Qian’s visit to Papua New Guinea or from his visit to the Federated States of Micronesia, which has close relations with the United States. Micronesia’s statement reiterated support for Beijing’s One China policy.

Four of the 14 states that recognise Taiwan instead of Beijing are in the Pacific. The Solomon Islands and Kiribati switched their diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taiwan in 2109.

Joseph Cella, the American ambassador to Fiji from 2019 to 2021, said Qian’s appointment as special envoy was an odd decision because his abrasive style had alienated officials in Fiji when he served as ambassador there.

“Rather than the patient work of building relationships and rapport, Qian specialised in splashy giveaways, from rugby balls to fancy buses,” Cella said in a 01 March opinion piece for the Washington Times.  “Qian was also known for his aggressive stunts, which angered and embarrassed his hosts,” Cella said.