In the streets of the capital, Port Moresby, a march was organised by demonstrators who wanted to protest the presence of too many Asians, especially Chinese. Foreigners have set up businesses in the country’s main towns and cities and are directly competing with locals in a country with a weak economy where the unemployment rate stands at 80 per cent.
For Peter Ipatas, governor of the central province of Enga, the incidents are due to government policies which have failed to help locals and have favoured foreigners instead.
Opposition leader Mekere Morauta agrees. He told the Post-Courier newspaper that the “government is allowing unskilled foreigners who cannot even speak one word of English taking on the forms of business that only Papua New Guineans should be allowed to own and operate.”
Coupled with accusations of unfair competition anti-Chinese sentiments have been fuelled by allegations that local workers have been forced to work in sub-standard conditions by Chinese state-owned mining companies like Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) whose main operation is in Madang province on the northern coast. In one incident on 8 May miners stormed a nickel mine in Basamuk, forcing it to close.
The target “is not so much the Chinese community as Chinese businesses. There is a widespread resentment against Asians doing work that could be done by Papua New Guineans” and which is “reserved by legislation” to them, said Mgr Douglas Young, archbishop of Mount Hagen, in an interview with AsiaNews.
“There is a suspicion that many people come in through corrupt practices. Even the minister accepts that there is corruption in his department. The poor are not usually able to distinguish between the older third generation Chinese families and businesses and new ones; between legal occupations that benefit the country and illegal ones, between Chinese and other Asians,” the prelate said.
Given the situation affecting its nationals in the Oceanic nation, China has acted at the diplomatic level, calling on the PNG government to protect its citizens.
PNG Prime Minister Puka Temu has apologised to China for the attacks against the Chinese community.
On Wednesday the PNG parliament voted to set up a special bi-partisan committee of MPs to look at the past week of street rioting and looting which targeted foreign businesses.