China is funding “white elephant” infrastructure projects in the Pacific at unfavorable terms, a senior Australian minister said yesterday in comments that could fuel further tensions between Canberra and Beijing.
Friction between the two nations grew last month after Australia singled out China as a focus of concern when it proposed laws on foreign interference, drawing a furious response from Beijing.
China has been forging closer links with Pacific island nations, with Australia’s Lowy Institute estimating it provided US$1.78 billion in aid, including concessional loans, for projects in the region between 2006 and 2016.
Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said Beijing’s influence in the region was “clearly growing,” but criticized its development assistance as resulting in “white elephants.”
“You’ve got the Pacific full of these useless buildings which nobody maintains, which are basically white elephants,” she told the Australian.
Fierravanti-Wells said in her 24 trips to the Pacific as part of her international development portfolio, she had come across “non-productive infrastructure” that was not regularly maintained and not used to full capacity.
“I’ve gone to [the Pacific] islands and you’ll be driving along on some back road and all of a sudden you see this Chinese road crew building a road to nowhere and you think: ‘Hmm, what’s all that about,’” she added.
The minister also warned that unlike loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, Chinese financing had less than favorable terms.
“We don’t know what the consequences are when [Pacific nations] have to pay back some of these Chinese loans,” she said.
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