18 Jan 2018

Cook Islands takes firm line on China aid

4:29 pm on 18 January 2018

The Cook Islands Finance Minister Mark Brown says the Cook Islands has learnt to take a firm stand over the years to ensure aid projects meet the country's needs.

Mr Brown has described as "unfortunate", comments by an Australian minister that China constructs "useless buildings" and "roads to nowhere" in the region and he says the Cook Islands welcomes China's support.

Netball teams in action at the Bluesky Sports Arena in Rarotonga.

The Bluesky Sports Arena on Rarotonga was built with aid from China Photo: Netball Cook Islands

Mr Brown said over the years the Cook Islands had learnt to make sure its own priorities were at the heart of support received from both traditional and emerging donor countries.

And he said China was now fixing up the first three main buildings it had built for the country.

"We were quite firm in our need to have some remedial work being done and to their credit the Chinese government agreed not just to remedial work but to actually come through and do a total refurbishment of these three projects."

Australia's International Development Minster Concetta Fierravanti-Wells is reported last week inThe Australian saying there was no doubt China was "duchessing" politicians in the Pacific and the paper referred to Cook Islands MPs receiving free quad bikes as part of a donation of agricultural equipment in 2015.

Military engineers and tradesmen from China, New Zealand, Britain and the US spent six weeks on a range of infrastructure projects in the Cook Islands.

Chinese and New Zealand military engineers and tradesmen helped build infrastructure in the Cook Islands as part of Exercise Tropic Twilight in 2015. Photo: NZDF

"They may call that duchessing .... we call it direct support towards our grassroots communities to assist in growing more crops and food to meet the demand from the tourism industry," said Mr Brown.

"Some MPs were using those. Some MPs had put the quad bikes directly into the hands of their community groups.

"[There was] a whole range of equipment you wouldn't normally get from other development partners as part of an aid programme or an aid package and this has been well-utilised by community groups to the extent that our Ministry of Agriculture is able to show the increased amount of production as a direct result of these machineries going out to community groups."

Police station in Rarotonga

The Cook Islands Police headquarters in Rarotonga is one of three deteriorating buildings built by China now being refurbished by the Chinese. Photo: RNZI / Mary Baines

The minister said all development assistance was done in an open transparent manner and published in the annual budget.

Ms Ferriavanti-Wells also said there were concerns China's loans to Pacific island countries were on unfavourable terms.

Mr Brown said the Cook Islands' only debt with China was a US$16.7 million loan with the Exim Bank of China for the Te Mato Vai water project, a project currently underway involving China, New Zealand and the Cook Islands.

He said the terms were commensurate with those loans offered by the Asian Development Bank and the European Investment Bank.

Cook Islands Finance Minister Mark Brown

Cook Islands finance minister Mark Brown Photo: Cook Islands News

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