And don’t forget that Communist Party of China controls Darwin’s Port for the next 90 odd years – Mick Raven
Why PNG’s Daru would ‘reluctantly’ support a $204 million Chinese fishing plant on Australia’s doorstep
Daru Mayor Samuel Winggu says he has been calling for more investment in his town for years.(Supplied)
The plan for a new multimillion-dollar fish processing plant on his small island came as a complete surprise to Samuel Winggu.
- There’s concern Chinese fishing could destroy marine life in the area
- Canberra also has security concerns given Daru’s proximity to Australia
- The island is extremely poor and its mayor says it’s desperate for development
The mayor of Daru learned this week of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in November that could see a little-known Chinese company develop a $204 million facility on the island, situated in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea, just a few kilometres from Australia’s border.
A press release announcing the agreement under the Chinese Government’s Belt and Road Initiative hailed it as a win for local jobs and development.
Mr Winggu said he had concerns about the company’s plans.
“It’s nothing concrete at this stage … but I am of the view that if the Chinese did come in and do a massive fishing activity around here, there is going to be a massive destruction to the marine life,” he said.
The prospect of a major Chinese-owned development on Australia’s doorstep has also sent alarm bells ringing in Canberra.
A photograph showing members of the community on Daru Island, a Papua New Guinean territory in the Torres Strait, kilometres from the Australian border.(Supplied)
Daru is situated off the southern coast of PNG in the Torres Strait, just a few kilometres from the Australian border and 200 kilometres from the country’s mainland.
In Senate estimates last week, Senator Rex Patrick asked Foreign Minister Marise Payne to make clear the country’s national security concerns about China to PNG authorities.
Ms Payne said she would seek more details about the MOU, but reiterated the presence of Australian Border Force in the area.
Mr Winggu said his community would need to be consulted over plans for the fishing plant, but the promise of economic development on the run-down island would be difficult to resist.
“Countries like China, when they come along, we can reluctantly accept them because they might come in to provide some form of employment,” he said.
“They may also come in and do some infrastructure development that we need.”
Mr Winggu said Daru was extremely poor.
“The town is an absolute run-down town with a lack of infrastructure, the roads are not sealed, there is no proper market … a lot of things are not in order,” he said.
A sign warning against COVID-19 in Daru, a Papua New Guinean island in the Torres Strait.(Supplied)
“There is a lack of employment … there is no cash moving around, so we are almost having a cashless society.”
Mr Winggu said Daru was also a “ticking time bomb” for health problems.
Mr Winggu urged the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments to invest more in Daru, which is the only town that shares an international border with Australia.
“Daru town needs to be upgraded to a level and rebuilt and restored, so that we can respond to issues that concerns the two international borders,” he said.
“That has been my cry for over so many years.”
Fisheries deal may not come to fruition
Daru lacks infrastructure, and there’s hope Chinese investment in the area could lead to improvements.(Supplied)
In the Senate Estimates, Marise Payne said Australia and PNG had the “closest of relationships”, pointing to recent investment in a health clinic on the Western Province.
Others have cast doubt on the likelihood of the Chinese fish processing facility actually being built on Daru Island.
Graeme Smith from the Australian National University’s Department of Pacific Affairs said MOUs were frequently signed between China and PNG, but projects rarely came to fruition.
“One of the classic places where people get alarmed about Chinese investment is Bougainville,” he said.
“There are so many MOUs that have been signed there, around mining and fisheries, forestry … and pretty well none of them come to fruition.
Mr Smith also questioned whether the company behind the agreement, Fujian Zhonghong Fishery Limited, had enough experience to get the project off the ground.
“As far as I can tell, this company is a newcomer to PNG, and is starting off out of the gate with a very ambitious $200 million project,” he said.
“I would be sceptical. Unless they have comparable experience elsewhere … the complexities around land, around access to fishing stocks, simply getting the thing built in somewhere like Daru, are immense and will require a great deal of local support.”
Daru Island is less than 200 kilometres from the Australian mainland.(Google Maps)
Whether it eventuates or not, the agreement comes against a backdrop of China’s increased trade ties with PNG’s fishing industry.
In June, PNG gained accreditation to export seafood directly to China, where previously, products had to go through a third country.
In a statement announcing the Daru agreement, China’s Ambassador to Papua New Guinea Bing Xue said fishery cooperation between the two countries had developed rapidly.
The head of PNG’s Fishing Industry Association Sylvester Pokajam said he was worried about Chinese fishing activity in the country more broadly.
“I am concerned about our marine resources here. My concern is about the sustainability and food security of our people,” he said.
Mr Pokajam said he thought PNG did not have the resources to police foreign fishing.
The ABC has made multiple attempts to seek comments from the PNG Fisheries Minister and the Fujian Zhonghong Fishery Company, which declined an interview.