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China ‘fuelling corruption, resentment in Pacific’: Vanuatu Foreign Minister

One of the Pacific’s most respected diplomats, Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu, has warned Chinese investment in the region is fuelling corruption and causing resentment among local people being denied jobs by imported workforces.

Regenvanu said the biggest problem dealing with China — unlike Australian and New Zealand — was the policing of local laws, and issues around corruption.

“Chinese investors seem to have a more lax attitude towards regulations, for example — environmental impact assessments,” he told the Australian Centre for China and the World’s Little Red Podcast.

Regenvanu said relationships between local politicians in Vanuatu and the dominant Chinese contractor, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, were undermining good governance.

“There are issues of corruption, of course, especially in public works,” he said.

Regenvanu said huge numbers of Chinese workers in Vanuatu were stoking resentment among locals, particularly in his own electorate of Port Villa, where Chinese business people and labourers were seen as depriving opportunities to the young people.

“When you see people who you perceive as foreigners having jobs and having businesses, and you think you’re a local and can’t have access, it becomes an issue,” he said.

Pacific Island Forum Secretary-general Dame Meg Taylor said some Pacific nations felt they were being swamped by Chinese workers.

“I think there is a fear of being overrun. That there will be everybody coming from outside to do these projects,” she said.

Dame Meg said the feeling was acute in her own country of Papua New Guinea, where 60 per cent of the population was under 16.

“You meet all these young people that just cannot get a job. We have to address this. We’ve got to provide opportunities for them,” she told the Little Red Podcast.

Dame Meg said Beijing had sought to influence the forum’s secretariat, urging it recognise the One China policy.

But the forum includes six nations which continue to recognise Taiwan — Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu and Palau.

“The secretariat faces pressure. The forum itself, the leaders conduct themselves the way they want. But we are the workers so we cop it,” she said.


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