No lasting impact over China aid criticism

The foreign affairs department doesn't believe comments by a Turnbull government minister about Chinese aid to the Pacific will have a lasting impact.

The foreign affairs department insists there hasn't been a lasting impact on Australia's relationships in the region despite a Turnbull government minister criticising Chinese aid to the Pacific.

International Development and Pacific Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells in January accused China of constructing "useless buildings" and "roads to nowhere" as a means of buying influence with regional governments.

It prompted media comments from Pacific leaders and a claim from Chinese media that Australia was an "arrogant overlord".

But appearing at a Senate committee, DFAT officials said there had been no "formal" diplomatic representations on the comments.

But Julie Bishop did discuss them with Samoa's prime minister.

Department secretary Frances Adamson, who was on leave at the time and saw the comments when she opened The Australian on her return, said it was not unhealthy to have such conversations.

"I think what we are all agreed on is the need for aid to the Pacific to assist sustainable development," she said.

"If as a result of these comments and further comments made about them we can double down on that objective then that to me is a reasonable way forward."

Ms Adamson said she did not believe the matter has had any lasting impact on Australia's pursuit of interests in the South Pacific.

"It is my professional judgment that it has not and that it will not," she said.

The secretary described China's description of Australia as an "overlord" as clearly inaccurate.

"We speak to the Chinese very often, but as you also know the Chinese don't hesitate when they are unhappy with any country to make that known publicly," she said.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells was given material for a possible article on Australia's Pacific engagement on January 3, but it did not detail claims of "useless buildings" or "white elephants", officials said.

They told the hearing Australia gives $1.1 billion in aid to the region every year.

Published 1 March 2018 at 1:04pm
Source: AAP