13 Aug 2018

New database to improve aid transparency in Pacific

12:22 pm on 13 August 2018

A director at the Australian think tank the Lowy Institute says a new database will improve aid transparency in the Pacific and hold donors to account.

Pacific Aid Map

Photo: The Lowy Institute

Last week the Institute's Pacific Aid Map was released, covering close to 13,000 aid projects from 62 countries.

Jonathan Pryke said governments, civil society and other stakeholder groups in the Pacific would benefit from the online resource.

"The real aim of this project is to just enhance transparency of all aid flows in the Pacific, which will hopefully contribute towards making this aid better," he said.

"By making aid more transparent you will enhance the opportunity for donors to better coordinate with one another because they can more easily identify what other countries are doing in the Pacific."

Mr Pryke said he hoped the research would dispel some of the myths around China's aid being overly dominant in the region.

The Pacific Aid Map showed Australia remained the largest donor in the Pacific, spending $US6.58 billion between 2011 and 2018.

China committed nearly $US6 billion over the same period, but spent only $US1.26 billion.

"China is a significant player in the Pacific, but we can't forget the critical role that Australia and New Zealand and other major partners have in the Pacific as well," said Mr Pryke.

"There was a bit of a binge of cheap credit from China in terms of these large infrastructure-based concessional loans, but I think that peaked two years ago."

Mr Pryke said countries like Fiji and Papua New Guinea were now cutting back on loans after realising the challenge of paying back interest on them.

China defends aid to Pacific

China says its aid to countries in the Pacific has no political strings attached and is not aimed at any third party.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama receives Guangdong Provincial Party Secretary, Mr Hu Chunhua, in Suva in June 2015

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama Guangdong Provincial Party Secretary, Mr Hu Chunhua Photo: Supplied

China's foreign ministry was responding to numbers from the Lowy Institute which show China's $1.3 billon-worth of donations and concessionary loans since 2011 trails Australia's $6.6 billion.

"As a developing country, China fully understands the special difficulty Pacific island countries face in achieving sustainable development," China's foreign ministry said in a statement sent to Reuters.

China "provides what aid it can on the basis of respecting the wishes of the island nations without attaching any political conditions, vigorously promoting socio-economic development", it added.

"China's aid is aimed at promoting the well-being of the people of the island nations, and strengthening their ability to develop sustainably, without seeking any personal gain, and it is also not aimed at any third party," the ministry said.

The Lowy numbers also show China jostling with Taiwan to use aid money as a means of cultivating diplomatic ties in a region home to a third of Taiwan's allies.

China considers self-ruled and democratic Taiwan to be merely a wayward province, with no right to diplomatic relations.

China "hopes the relevant side abandons 'zero sum thinking' and unprovoked suspicion, and does more to benefit peace, stability and development for Pacific island nations", the ministry added, without elaborating.

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