The story, which came with a question asking Cook Islanders what they thought of the announcement, had attracted 363 comments and around 412 views by Friday.
That’s second only to reaction to a story about nurses being suspended in the wake of a Pacific health forum on Rarotonga in September, which brought huge condemnation from social media users.
The $10 million funding story followed prime minister Henry Puna’s return from the APEC meeting in Papua New Guinea last month. A Foreign Affairs and Immigration ministry press release said the projects would be determined by the Cook Islands government, though more recently, MFEM head Garth Henderson said there was a possibility it could be used to pay for some of TMV project costs, which have escalated from $60 million to around $90 million.
The release also revealed that the Cook Islands had also signed a Memorandum of Understanding under China’s “Belt and Road” initiative.
Thought it is known that China’s offers of funding to developing countries frequently have conditions attached that are not beneficial to countries receiving the cash handouts (and the same applies to other donor countries), there was no mention of these in the press release.
The story on Facebook received overwhelmingly negative comments, with most people criticising the government for accepting the money.
“Ports made by China are for their Navy,” said one. “Transparency is the only true answer.”
One post posed the question: “what is expected for this money? Does China want unlimited access to fish the ocean and reap it of all the fish? Do they want to destroy the ocean floor while in the process of mining it for mineral nodes? China doesn’t offer something for nothing!”
“Agreed, we may not know the exact details of how it came about we only know what we read and since it is coming to light now it does raise a concern,” another post said. “But you must also agree money was donated/gifted/loaned for a price, so the question it seems everyone is asking is, what was the price? What has been negotiated for 10 mill? Article states the people agreed. Which people, as there are a lot of people on here that didn’t. Hence, I can only assume they were not part of the decision-making nor had the option! It leaves the question unanswered: What was negotiated? Why the secrecy? And more importantly, like others have said, there are terms & conditions for any money exchanges. What are those?
Another post was much more brief: “Danger, danger Cook Islands. Look at the mess they made of the police station and the law courts. China is for China, no-one else.”
And in the same vein: “Not a good move Cook Islands. They will rip all your fish out of the sea and then take all your infrastructure when you can’t pay back the loan.
A few others had different views: “Wow, some real educated comments in here. What about Australia’s $2 billion offer for yet-to-be-determined projects? I don’t see any comments referring to the Pacific or Cook Islands being owned by Australia, or any research - just scaremongering. For those interested in real research check out the ANU. Matt Dornan did the research into China’s loans and grants in the Pacific - you can educate yourselves from there.
And the final word: If you all have $10 million to help government fund its ‘to do’ list, then you have a point. If you don't have that money to help with government then just zip it and please sit down! Reality is there are not many back home paying taxes to fund infrastructure repairs and reconstruction. So let’s be grateful for China's current vision.”