HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 608: 21 March 2012

China /Cook Islands relations –the way of the future?
A reader who attended the USP lectures on China, offers his personal view

Should the Cook Islands embrace China? That appeared to be weighing on the minds of those who attended the public lecture at the USP last week presented by Professor Stewart Firth and Associate Professor Kate Hannan in their presentation “Why is China in the Cook Islands and the Pacific?” The visiting Professors were in the Cook Islands to run a series of lectures on China as part of the Masters in Diplomacy International Affairs course at USP and this presentation was an opportunity to engage and share information with the general public about certain myths surrounding China.
Judging by the excellent attendance and the ethnic diversity of those present, the presentation certainly left food for thought as to where we in the Cook Islands stand on the issue of China. Professor Firth provided an historical overview as to China’s relationship with the Cook Islands and the wider Pacific whilst A/Professor Hannan focused on dealing with the positive and negative realities involving China.
Whether we like it or not, China has been a significant contributor to our economy in recent years in areas such as, fisheries, infrastructure, tourism and agriculture. China’s involvement has raised suspicion as to its real intentions or motives for “assisting the Cook Islands” however, comments throughout the presentations provided an air of optimism dispelling in some cases, the myths that China has a “hidden agenda.”
The presentation in itself did not pretend to support the notion that China has a hidden agenda. It merely stated the reality and desire for China to extend and expand its technological and economic expertise based on past political turmoil and turned it around to advance economic developments to improve the status of its economy and its people.
With China’s engagement with the rest of the world regarding loans and development funds, 80% goes to Asia while only 4% goes to the Pacific. Mining in Australia nets $4,000m; $800m for mining in PNG; $2billion to USA while in the Cook Islands, we are currently funded to the tune of $37m. This highlights the scale of China’s investment capability externally only and questions our inability to take advantage of the opportunities being presented by China.
During the 1980’s, there was major social unrest in China resulting in the Communist regime initiating economic reforms which we now see the results of today with China’s emergence as one of the leading industrial superpowers in the world. Its incredible rise and dominance amongst the superpowers can be attributed according to Associate Professor Hannan, to the introduction of what is called its “going out policy.” This “going out policy” was designed to encourage China’s financial markets and developers to go out into the world to look at potential investment opportunities for development using China funds.
This approach has allowed China to accumulate its own wealth and development at a phenomenal rate positioning itself strategically to influence western ideologies of development strategies. These strategies have resulted in a shift of thinking globally by the superpowers to either instil a shift in attitude or face being left out as it cannot compete with the sheer market forces China has to offer and provide.
So what does this mean for the Cook Islands? We do know that China has extended its “going out policy” to other Pacific nations such as NZ, Australia, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Solomons, PNG, Tuvalu, Niue etc that provides an economic/diplomatic commitment towards assistance but realistically, this presentation can be regarded as a “wake up call” for the Cook Islands Government and civil society to reassess its own future relationship with China.
The critical questions that Cook Islanders should ask is “should we review our foreign policy and One China Policy” to better reflect positive emerging partnerships towards development initiatives? Do we want to continue to remain under the realm of “controlled donor support” or should we welcome China as a major future development partner to take our country beyond the realm of developing status?
We might also ask, what does China want from us? Well unless the Professors are wrong, China simply just wants Sovereign recognition of its ability as a major contributing nation globally to assist in development issues in exchange for market access including fisheries, minerals, agriculture and tourism to name a few.
Perhaps it is time for Government to seriously look at its own models for development as we move towards a free market approach with increasing debt ratios but enormous asset potential with our EEZ especially in fisheries and mineral resource mining. China is open to provide opportunities and solutions for the Cook Islands however, it is up to us to take this on board rather than get left behind.
We acknowledge everything is not perfect with China. It is reputed to have a poor human rights record but at least, it is taking positive steps to address these anomalies while continuing to include other countries as beneficiaries to its success. A comprehensive development proposal by local resident Tim Tepaki is currently under consideration and if approved, could change the face of the economic base of the Cook Islands. The question is “will Government support it?”
No doubt for some, there will still be an air of continued uncertainty, scepticism and general ignorance as to China’s engagement and future influence in the Cook Islands. But taking into account the principles behind China’s going out policy, what have we got to lose? One thing is certain, China has offered an open hand to assist, what are we going to do about it?

Herald Issue 608 21 March
- Terms of one China Policy document should be reviewed
- Pacific Media Assistance Scheme Seeks Innovation
- Successful NZ visit by PM
- Rerekura Teaurere New Climate Change Coordinator
- News Briefs

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