A research has been conducted at Lenakel on Tanna and Port Vila last year to capture local perceptions on the Chinese and Australian development assistance to Vanuatu.
142 female food stall-holders and 142 male bus drivers in the two towns were interviewed as part of the research.
The research was conducted by Professors Matthew Clarke from Deaken University in Australia and Simon Feeny from RMIT University, with support from local researchers.
The findings of the research were presented at the Vanuatu Cultural Centre in Port Vila recently.
The first interview question was: “Which country has most influence in Vanuatu? Majority of the 284 interviewees said, China.
Professor Clarke explained in his presentation that China’s influence is played through infrastructure development. China has recently been investing in big infrastructure projects such as the new tar-sealed road on Tanna.
83% of the interviewees agreed that Australia’s influence is mostly positive.
Some of the things outlined that contribute to Australia’s positive image are infrastructure, business investment and support of Vanuatu internationally.
There are concerns about land grabbing and behaviors of Australian citizens.
46% of the interviewees suggested that Chinese influence was mostly positive and 36% mostly negative.
There are fears about land grabbing, quality of Chinese products, Chinese taking local jobs, resource extraction and lack of cooperation.
Transparency of aid to communities was also a concern as well as sovereignty.
According to the research, China is perceived as having high influence but low level of development assistance satisfaction while Australia is perceived as having limited influence by high level of development satisfaction.
Professor Clarke emphasized that it is important not to ignore local perceptions on the Chinese and Australian development assistance.
“Local constituencies in democratic states such as Vanuatu hold political agency and can influence domestic political discourse and decision-making around current and future development assistance,” he stated.
A concern was made after the presentation that the research should include a wide range of perceptions-including other members of the community.
Professor Clarke’s presentation focused initially on the nature of the increased presence of China in the Pacific region, which is causing unease among other international partners such as as Australia who regarded the region as its “back yard”.
According to his presentation, Australian development assistance has largely stagnated over the last decade (in face of increasing Chinese funding).
The presentation explained what drives the increased presence of China in Vanuatu and the Pacific region.
A similar case study was also conducted in Papua New Guinea (PNG).