US partnership offers alternative to Chinese investment in the Pacific
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US partnership offers alternative to Chinese investment in the Pacific

ON Tuesday, the United States became the latest country to pledge their support to infrastructure development in the Pacific Islands, aiming to improve the quality, reliability, and availability of critical infrastructure in both rural and urban areas to boost economic growth, create jobs, and provide access to public services.

America joins Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the European Union; along with organisations, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the European Investment Bank, as the latest member of the Pacific Region Infrastructure Facility (PRIF).

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“We are excited to be fully involved in PRIF activities and look forward to working with our partners on strategic infrastructure development priorities in the Pacific region,” State Department Director of East Asia Pacific and Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Island Affairs Nicholas Dean said in a statement.

“We recognise the PRIF Charter, which outlines principles and the partners’ commitment to increasing the quality and effectiveness of infrastructure assistance in the region.”

The infrastructure development group is seen as offering Pacific countries an alternative to Chinese finance for big projects. According to PRIF coordinator Rob Jauncey, the infrastructure requirement of the Pacific region is over US$3 billion per annum.

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Inhabitants of Kiritimati coral atoll building a stone seawall to struggle against sea level rise cause by global warming. Source: AFP Photo/SPC

Climate change is the driving force behind these high costs as sea-level rise plays an increasingly large role in the daily lives of Pacific Islanders. Inhabitants may well among the first humans on Earth to be permanently displaced by the catastrophic effects of global, human-induced climate change.

At the current rate, sea levels are expected to rise two metres by 2100. At this point, islands such as Kiribati will have been long submerged and their populations forced from their homes.

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But climate change is far from a future issue for the region. The effects are very much being felt now. In 2016, five islands in the Solomon Islands archipelago were lost to the sea.

The PRIF has been operating since 2008, working closely with Pacific governments to tackle the arising issues as well as improve lives and prospects for those living there.

The partnership between members enables the PRIF to reach the high annual funding needed, a cost Jauncey believes is beyond a single partner – even China, who has been pouring money into the region over recent years.

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Papuans gather at the roadside to welcome China’s President Xi Jinping in Port Moresby on November 16, 2018, ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

This year, Beijing overtook Australia as the largest donor to the Pacific region. In 2017, they committed to spend more than four times as much as Australia, with a US$4 billion pledge. Australia pledged an estimated US$815m of aid to the Pacific in the financial year 2017-18, according to government budget estimates.

Regional governments have accused Xi Jinping’s government of using the investments to gain influence over the Pacific, but China has repeatedly denied the accusation, saying in an editorial in the Global Times in August:

“China has clearly stated that Pacific is not a sphere of influence of any country, and its cooperation with the Pacific islands will never target any third party. Cooperation is the only way to realise common development and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.”