It is claimed a Chinese Plane that held up a Royal Australian Air Force jet from landing in Vanuatu was chartered by a state owned company that is among the biggest contractors in the South Pacific.
Australian Defence Officials are looking into why the Chinese Plane, which was carrying Medical Equipment, was still on the tarmac when the RAAF Plane had been cleared to deliver humanitarian supplies on Sunday for the cyclone-struck nation.
The C-17A RAAF plane had to return to Brisbane after reaching its fuel limit while circling the airport and returned a day later to deliver the supplies.
The Chinese plane, which arrived the previous day, was chartered by China Civil Engineering Construction Corp (CCECC), which has a significant presence in the region.
According to the company’s website, the plane carried 4.3 tonnes of medical supplies, including ventilators, masks and testing kits, to help Vanuatu prepare for any outbreak of COVID-19.
This included equipment provided by the Chinese government, some procured by the Vanuatu government and some donated from Guangdong Province.
CCECC had also constructed 12 sets of container-type isolation wards for the Vanuatu Vera Hospital, the company said.
Graeme Smith, a research fellow at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific, said it was not unusual for a company like CCECC to help co-ordinate donated supplies on behalf of the Chinese government and other groups.
“They are very big in Vanuatu and their regional headquarters are in the country,” Dr. Smith said. “From a Chinese perspective, this is not eyebrow-raising. Certainly from the company’s point of view, it is part of them being a good corporate citizen.
“There a handful of companies that are very big in the Pacific in terms of infrastructure contracting and this company would be in the top three easily.”
China’s influence in the South Pacific has risen steadily in recent years. Over the past decade, Beijing has funneled about $6 billion in grants and concessional loans into roads, ports and other projects in the region under its Belt & Road Initiative, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature program to bankroll infrastructure around the world.
Leading up to the Solomon Islands’ decision last year to switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China, CCECC pitched its government a $US500 million package of loans and grants, Australian government sources have said. Vanuatu has diplomatic relations with China and does not recognize Taiwan.
Both Australia and China have been looking to send more supplies to Pacific Island nations to deal with any outbreaks of COVID-19 and cyclone recovery efforts. Cyclone Harold made landfall on Vanuatu’s northern islands on April 6, before hitting the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Tonga.