China protests against Oz 'white elephant' remarks
Beijing: China lodged a formal diplomatic protest on Wednesday after a senior Australian minister called Chinese infrastructure projects in the Pacific "white elephants", the latest spat in increasingly contentious relations.
Friction between the two countries grew last month after Australia singled out China as a focus of concern when it proposed laws on foreign interference, drawing a furious response from Beijing.
China has been forging closer links with Pacific island nations, with Australia's Lowy Institute estimating it provided US 1.78 billion in aid, including concessional loans, for projects in the region between 2006-16.
Australian International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said Beijing's influence in the region was "clearly growing", but criticised its development assistance as resulting in "white elephants".
"You've got the Pacific full of these useless buildings which nobody maintains, which are basically white elephants," she told The Australian newspaper.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang slammed the remarks during a regular press briefing, calling them "full of ignorance and prejudice".
"They are also irresponsible, and we have already made representations to the Australian government," he said, adding that Fierravanti-Wells should "engage in self-reflection".
Fierravanti-Wells said in her 24 trips to the Pacific as part of her international development portfolio, she had come across "non productive infrastructure" that was not regularly maintained and not used to full capacity. "I've gone to (the Pacific) islands and you'll be driving along on some back road and all of a sudden you see this Chinese road crew building a road to nowhere," she added.