China and New Zealand have both announced new aid commitments to the Pacific.
First, China’s vice foreign minister Zheng Zeguang chaired a video-conference this week in which Cook Islands and nine other Pacific nations offered their firm support for the “one-China principle”, according to China’s official news agency Xinhua.
Afterwards, China and the Pacific countries issued a joint press release, in which the island states thanked China for medical supplies it is providing. They commended China’s “transparent” and “responsible” handling of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Then yesterday, Jacinda Ardern’s Government announced its 2020/21 Budget, which included $55.6 million in new foreign aid spending.
Secretary of Foreign Affairs Tepaeru Herrmann has declined to comment on the China meeting and medical aid, but she did issue a statement last night thanking New Zealand for its aid commitments.
She said it was a testament to New Zealand’s continued commitment to the Pacific, despite Covid-19.
“New Zealand’s support and assistance to the Cook Islands Covid-19 response effort has been invaluable,” she said. “They have consistently worked side by side with us to bolster our capabilities to respond to what has been an unprecedented crisis of extraordinary global scale, despite their own challenges.”
Herrmann said it was “imperative” to move towards longer term economic recovery, though the immediate health response was the highest priority for Cook Islands, New Zealand and governments around the world.
The China-Pacific teleconference came just days before the World Health Assembly is expected to debate a proposal for an investigation into origin of the coronavirus pandemic – an investigation that China has reportedly opposed.
Cook Islands Parliamentarians have united in a commitment to China: to oppose stigmatising and labelling its people for the origin of the coronavirus.
Democratic Party leader Tina Browne said the opposition agreed with government’s commitment to avoid stigmatising and labelling the virus.
But she said Cook Islands should support a “thorough investigation into how, where and why Covid-19 originated”.
And she expressed reservations on the “One China principle” that Cook Islands has supported, according to the participants’ joint statement. The One China principle insists Taiwan is part of China – a claim rejected by most western nations.
She was cautious about China’s enthusiasm to take partnerships with Pacific Island countries to new heights. “We need to protect what few resources we have, our ocean fisheries, our seabed minerals to absolutely benefit our own people, not some other country with its own vast and diverse resources.
“I also don’t want to think that China has chosen this time to hold talks with Pacific Island countries when we are all very vulnerable and our economies are in recession,” Browne said.
“But it would appear that China is attempting an ill-timed public relations exercise and trying to drum up support from Pacific Island countries in readiness for its future plans in the region.”
Additional reporting by Jonathan Milne.