Published: 02:27, February 26, 2024 | Updated: 09:38, February 26, 2024
Conspiracy theories cannot distort China's vision for global cooperation
By Andrew Lam

On Feb 4, Richard Verma, the US deputy secretary of state for management and resources, cautioned Papua New Guinea (PNG) against entering into a security pact with China. 

He talked about the “risks” associated with relying on the “false promise of authoritarian regimes” and repeated the unsubstantiated cliche of a “debt trap”. 

These remarks followed a Reuters interview with Justin Tkachenko, PNG’s foreign minister, in late January, which revealed China’s offer to provide training, equipment and surveillance technology to PNG’s police force.

The United States and Australia have been actively discouraging other Pacific Islands from forging closer ties with China since 2022 after China’s security pact with the Solomon Islands. PNG, which historically views the US and Australia as security partners, is engaging in discussions with China about potential security collaboration. This indicates a potential shift in stance and possibly frustrates the US and Australia’s efforts to maintain their supremacy in the region.

READ MORE: Premier Li calls for enhanced ties with Papua New Guinea

Despite Verma’s attempts to portray his statements as a piece of well-intentioned advice for developing countries, readers closely following the dynamics of China-US relations and the current international situation can easily discern the subtle undertones in his words. In fact, he made no efforts to hide his intention by characterizing the situation as a competitive struggle for influence in this resource-abundant region.

Verma’s plea resonates with broader geopolitical apprehensions amid the escalating narrative of the “China threat” theory. Instances of Western politicians drawing unsupported links between China’s global outreach and so-called “strategic threats” have become increasingly common, underscoring a wider skepticism. Nowadays, public opinion could easily be manipulated by unfounded and baseless remarks to foster a misguided understanding of the policy intent behind China’s outreaching efforts, for instance the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This could disrupt the envisioned collaboration in building a community with a shared future for mankind.

One would be intrigued to ponder further what else could probably be behind Verma’s remarks beyond a possible desperate attempt to safeguard US hegemony.

It is crucial to recognize that, China’s engagements, particularly through the BRI over the past decade, have significantly deepened its involvement with countries in the Global South. Contrary to those conspiracy theories, these engagements aim to foster comprehensive infrastructure development, economic cooperation and mutually beneficial initiatives. The strategic design of these efforts aligns with the overarching goal of promoting global economic development.

This heightened involvement is firmly grounded in the principles of cultivating win-win cooperation which emphasizes mutual respect. At the core of these initiatives lies a profound commitment to establishing a community that prioritizes the collective well-being of all parties involved. This commitment reflects an inclusive approach recognizing that sustainable economic growth can continue when shared. It extends benefits beyond individual countries to form a network of interconnected prosperity.

Indeed, the BRI has steadfastly concentrated on augmenting infrastructure, connectivity and economic cooperation through an extensive array of projects encompassing roads, railways, ports and energy facilities, since its proclamation in Kazakhstan in September 2013. From bespoke solutions and economic collaboration to fostering sustainable development, its widespread appeal is manifested through partnerships with over 100 nations and international organizations. The profound impact reverberates notably across Asia and Africa with flagship projects exemplifying its transformative potential.

The BRI stands out as a driving force behind pivotal infrastructure projects along BRI-participating countries. One such project is the Kereta Cepat Jakarta–Bandung, a 140-kilometer high-speed rail line connecting Jakarta and Bandung. When commercial operations started in late 2023, this project dramatically reduced travel time between the two cities from three hours to about 40 minutes, highlighting the BRI’s role in enhancing connectivity.

The BRI also catalyzes collaborative efforts in areas other than infrastructure, with investments in ports in Thailand, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman. China set up strategic partnerships in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia under the BRI umbrella and provides expertise to address critical gaps in sectors such as energy.

These multifaceted initiatives underscore the BRI’s crucial role in shaping the development landscape and serving as a cornerstone for economic growth. The initiatives illustrate China’s commitment to long-term partnerships that contribute to the socioeconomic advancement, sustainable development and regional connectivity of southern hemisphere countries.

With hindsight, the emergence of conspiracy theories could well be understandable. Throughout history, there have been far too many instances where plundering was carried out in the name of assistance since the onset of the Age of Discovery. Colonization of the Americas, Africa and Asia saw indigenous populations being subjected to imperialistic endeavors that often disguised economic exploitation as purported assistance.

Even right up to modern times, initiatives like the Point Four Program and many other similar programs are still fresh in people’s minds. Resource-rich and populous nations, such as Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia, Egypt and Zambia, have all succumbed to the mighty Western capital, one after another, as their hard-earned wealth was ruthlessly devoured.

ALSO READ: China e-com boom boosts trading status

For those people, these are not conspiracies but hard-learned lessons, the repercussions of which have left lasting scars on local communities and marked a chapter in history where assistance served as a facade for ulterior motives.

In the face of doubts and criticism, our unwavering commitment to transparency, cooperation and shared development shall remain steadfast. Our paramount objective is to adhere to our original intentions and diligently work toward building a better, united global community for the benefit of all humanity.

As reflected in the ancient Chinese wisdom, by using a mirror, we can examine how we dress; by studying history, we can understand why powers rose and fell; by observing other people’s success or failure, we know what to and what not to do.

The author is a member of the Legislative Council.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.