Beyond the reach of the whip: Chinese Investment in Papua New Guinea

  • Graeme Smith


The phrase bian chang mo ji 鞭长莫及 (beyond the reach of the whip) captures the opportunities and the challenges faced by Chinese entrepreneurs and companies operating in countries such as Papua New Guinea, well beyond the effective reach of the Chinese state. It is tempting to draw on the better-known phrase tian gao huangdi yuan 天高皇帝远 (the Emperor is as far away as the sky), but this implies that Chinese businesses are up to nefarious activities in the Pacific, which is not universally the case, despite several accounts that would have you believe otherwise (Henderson and Reilly 2003; Crocombe 2007; Kocsis 2012). Many of the Chinese I‘ve interviewed in Papua New Guinea, be they Sichuanese mine workers at the Kurumbukare mine site, Fuqing merchants running stores on remote Karkar Island, or site managers from Guangzhou supervising the University of Goroka dormitories project, all admit to the same mistake: we thought it was in Africa. Africa has a lot of Guineas, after all. This article will examine the three primary forms of Chinese investment in Papua New Guinea: retail, infrastructure and mining.