BEIJING • China's aid to countries in the Pacific has no political strings attached and is not aimed at any third party, the country's foreign ministry said yesterday, after a think-tank reported that Beijing has become the second-largest aid donor in the South Pacific.
According to figures compiled by Australia's Lowy Institute, China's US$1.3 billion (S$1.78 billion) worth of donations and concessionary loans since 2011 trails Australia's US$6.6 billion, but it is more than New Zealand's US$1.2 billion.
Such spending by China - criticised by many of its neighbours for island building in the South China Sea - is almost 9 per cent of total aid donations in the South Pacific.
If pledged aid is included, China's promises total US$5.9 billion, or nearly a third of all aid pledged to the region's 14 countries by 62 donors.
"As a developing country, China fully understands the special difficulty Pacific island countries face in achieving sustainable development," the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement sent to Reuters.
Beijing "provides what aid it can on the basis of respecting the wishes of the island nations without attaching any political conditions, vigorously promoting socio-economic development", it added.
"China's aid is aimed at promoting the well-being of the people of the island nations, and strengthening their ability to develop sustainably, without seeking any personal gain, and it is also not aimed at any third party," the ministry said.
The Lowy numbers, which do not include New Zealand contributions since March 2017, also show China jostling with Taiwan to use aid money as a means of cultivating diplomatic ties in a region home to a third of Taiwan's allies.
China considers self-ruled Taiwan a wayward province.
Beijing "hopes the relevant side abandons 'zero sum thinking' and unprovoked suspicion, and does more to benefit peace, stability and development for Pacific island nations", the ministry added, without elaborating.
Australia and the United States have begun a new campaign to counter China's rising influence in the Pacific.
Australia on Thursday promised radio gear and help to build parliamentary offices in Samoa's capital of Apia, the latest pledge of aid in the Pacific Islands, where China and Australia have been ramping up tit-for-tat donations.