APEC Summit In Papua New Guinea Could 'Squander Limited Resources' Of Bloc's Poorest State


APEC Summit in Papua New Guinea Could 'Squander Limited Resources' of Bloc's Poorest State

Martyn Namorong, who works for an NGO based in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG), plans to start his 10-day vacation away from the nation's capital on Friday

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 16th November, 2018) Martyn Namorong, who works for an NGO based in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG), plans to start his 10-day vacation away from the nation's capital on Friday, as authorities encouraged local residents to take vacations to avoid possible traffic congestion during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit to be held in the city on November 17-18.

"I'm taking 10 days of vacation for the duration of the APEC [Summit] and next week. Friday has been announced as a public holiday in PNG, because of the summit. That's because a lot of the world leaders are arriving and they want people to stay at home, as the roads in Port Moresby can be jammed by foreign traffic," Namorong told Sputnik.

In addition to encouraging local residents to help ease traffic congestion, the PNG government faced a series of challenges in preparation for the APEC summit, as the island nation remains the poorest among the 21 APEC member states.

The brand new waterfront conference center, known as the APEC Haus, was financed by the country's largest oil and gas exploration company Oil Search, in exchange for future tax discounts. The recently constructed main road leading to APEC conference venues was built with financial aid from China.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said this week that the island nation is hosting one of the cheapest APEC meetings compared to costs of previous summits. PNG officials have expressed hope that hosting the APEC summit can help raise the nation's global image, as locals are "sick of people thinking we're in Africa."

However, Namorong, the NGO worker from Port Moresby, questioned whether the cost of hosting the APEC summit was worthwhile for the underdeveloped island country, which continues to face serious social crisis.

"Many of us in PNG are concerned that a lot of sources have been spent on hosting the summit. The return on investment won't be there. We see this as squandering the country's limited resources, especially when we have social problems. We don't have medicine in our hospitals. Our schools are being closed and our teachers have not been paid," he said.

Namorong pointed out that infrastructure projects, such as newly constructed roads, won't benefit PNG citizens living in other parts of the country.

"Port Moresby only has 300,000 residents in a country with 8 million people. With aid money from China, a six-lane boulevard was built in front of the parliament building. It's a meaningless road. In fact, Chinese President Xi [Jinping] will open it on Friday," he said.

The local resident added that new buildings constructed for the APEC summit, such as new conference venues, could bring financial burdens for PNG in the future because of high maintenance costs.

"The massive venue buildings would be expensive to maintain going into the future. It makes you wonder about the sustainable use of those buildings," he said.

Political analysts suggested that the legacy of hosting the APEC summit in PNG depends on what kind of publicity it brings to the country.

"The reason it [hosting the APEC summit in PNG] is so controversial is because the economy is not doing well and there are big problems, especially in the health sector. It [the summit] will definitely generate publicity and awareness about PNG. For example, you wouldn't be writing a story about PNG without the APEC summit.

The question is whether it will generate good publicity or bad publicity. My argument is that there's too much risk of bad publicity, because the government hasn't used [the chance to host] the APEC [summit] to push through reforms," Professor Stephen Howes, the Director of the Development Policy Center under the Australian National University, told Sputnik.

Under China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing started to invest heavily in infrastructure projects in island nations in the Pacific including PNG in recent years. In addition to low interest loans, China also offered financial aid to underdeveloped countries like PNG, in exchange for geopolitical support and access to the nation's natural resources, such as PNG's rich natural gas reserves.

As the first world leader to arrive in PNG for the APEC summit on Thursday, Xi met with PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill on Friday. The two countries reached an agreement to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership of mutual respect and common development, Chinese state media reported.

The PNG prime minister has pledged that his country will play an active role in China's Belt and Road Initiative, according to media reports.

To welcome the arrival of the Chinese president, PNG authorities have decorated the main roads with Chinese national flags and traditional Chinese ribbons. Signs of "China Aid" can be seen all over the city of Port Moresby, including bus stops.

A Chinese-style red gate, similar to those used in imperial palaces, has been installed in front of the Stanley Hotel, where Xi is expected to stay.

"It's fascinating that Xi will come to Port Moresby to see a little bit of Beijing. It's probably a sign to PNG citizens that the Chinese are colonizing us. We're basically kowtowing to people who bankrolled a lot of the infrastructure," Namorong said.

While signs of China's financial contribution have been featured predominately on the land, PNG authorities have invited Australian naval ships to help patrol the waters close to Port Moresby, the local resident noted.

"We all say China owns the land here and the West controls the seas of Port Moresby," he said.

Professor Howes from the Australian National University argued that competition for influence over PNG between China and Australia could benefit the island nation.

"In fact, PNG used to be the only colony Australia had. There definitely has been a close relationship between the two countries. I think Australia does view China as a threat. And we're worried that PNG and other Pacific island countries will become closer to China and move further away from Australia. In the run-up to APEC, Australia announced it will set up an infrastructure bank for the Pacific to compete with China. I guess the Pacific counties are the beneficiaries of this. They'll end up with more aid, not only from China, but also from Australia and other Western countries," he said.

During the Second World War, PNG became a key battleground between Japan and Australia. By holding off Japanese troops in PNG until Japan's surrender in 1945, Australia was able to protect its mainland from Japanese invasion.

The strategic importance of PNG will push the Australia to boost its defense cooperation with its neighbor, in response to growing Chinese presence in the island nation, Professor Howes conclued.

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