China has lodged a formal protest over comments made by a senior member of Australian Prime Minister Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government criticizing the Asian nation’s infrastructure-construction policy in the Pacific.
Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, his minister for international development, said in an interview with the Australian newspaper on Wednesday that China had been lending to Pacific nations on unfavorable terms and constructing “useless buildings” and “roads to nowhere.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the comments were “full of ignorance and bias,” and his country lodged a protest to Turnbull’s government over the issue.
The spat comes a month after ties between the trading partners became strained when Turnbull cited China’s influence as a reason for introducing laws to crack down on interference by overseas powers. Other Western nations, including the U.S., U.K., Germany and New Zealand, have expressed concern about Chinese spying and propaganda activities.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner, with two-way trade of goods between the nations in the year to June 30, 2017, reaching A$157 billion ($123 billion). Chinese demand for iron ore and coal has helped power Australia’s 26-year run of recession-free growth, making the stakes for maintaining cordial ties with Beijing high.
Fierravanti-Wells, who is also a senator, was cited as saying China was seeking to boost its influence in the Pacific by constructing “useless buildings which nobody maintains, which are basically white elephants.”
China transferred at least $1.8 billion in aid to South Pacific nations from 2006 to 2016, the Australian reported, citing Lowy Institute research. Lu said in Beijing that China respected the will of the Pacific islands’ governments and their people.
“Our assistance has greatly improved the economic development of the countries and brought tangible benefits,” Lu told a media briefing on Wednesday. “We don’t think other countries are in a position to point fingers at China.”
Resources and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said Senator Fierravanti-Wells had made relevant points.
“When it comes to sustainable debt management and economically productive investments she is absolutely right that this needs to be a priority for our Pacific partners,” he told ABC Radio on Thursday.