A Federal Government frontbencher has fired a broadside at China, accusing Beijing of funding useless infrastructure projects in the Pacific.
- Concetta Fierravanti-Wells says projects in Pacific must bring economic benefit
- Lowy Institute says China has contributed $2.3 billion in aid to Pacific since 2006
- Fiji and PNG among those forging closer ties with China
Australian officials are increasingly worried by China's growing presence in the Pacific, and the way it is using concessional loans to bolster its influence.
They have also privately accused China of trying to win favour by funding projects which funnel money directly to leaders in the region.
Minister for International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells told The Australian newspaper that China was constructing "useless buildings" in the Pacific.
And she told the ABC's Pacific Beat program that she was concerned that some Pacific countries were taking on debts they could not afford to repay.
"We just don't want to build a road that doesn't go anywhere," Senator Fierravanti-Wells told Pacific Beat.
"We want to ensure that the infrastructure that you do build is actually productive and is actually going to give some economic benefit or some sort of health benefit."
The Lowy Institute said China had contributed more than $2.3 billion in aid to the Pacific since 2006.
"We work cooperatively with China, we encourage China to utilise its development assistance in a productive and effective manner," Senator Fierravanti-Wells said.
"In other words, we just don't want to build something for the heck of building it."
Fiji has been drawing closer to China in recent years, and Papua New Guinea has signed a series of infrastructure deals as part of Beijing's Belt and Road initiative.
The Federal Opposition warned recently that Australia was losing influence in the region as China expanded its presence.
And last year the Coalition said it would spend more than $100 million to help PNG host the APEC Summit in November — in part because officials were worried China would step into the breach.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said the Government's cuts to the aid budget had been felt in the region, and China was stepping into the void.
"China has played an increasing role in the Pacific while the Coalition under Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull have increasingly abandoned the region," Senator Wong said.
"They have relentlessly hacked at our aid funding, seeing an $11 billion cut to the development budget since they won government."