A Chinese-built multibillion-dollar city proposed for the tiny island of Daru in the Torres Strait is not being formally considered by the Papua New Guinea government, which says it has not seen the proposal.
The national planning minister, Rainbo Paita, told the Guardian that the government has not been presented with the proposal widely reported in the media, from the Hong Kong-based WYW Holding Company, to build a $39bn city on Daru Island, in PNG’s Western Province.
A letter written to the PNG government last April, and leaked to the media this week, proposes transforming part of Daru Island into a business, commercial and industrial zone, along with a neighbouring resort and residential area.
“We have no plans for any such zones for Western Province,” Paita said.
Western Province is one of PNG’s most marginalised areas, and Daru’s proximity to Australia – just 50km from Australian territory Sabai Island, and less than 200km from the mainland – has raised significant security concerns in Australia. Daru is within the Torres Strait Treaty zone, which allows for unrestricted travel for local PNG and Australian residents.
WYW Holding’s letter was sent to the government in April 2020. But in the 10 months since, it has not been brought to the attention of the prime minister, or formally submitted to the planning minister.
“If there is a letter, then we have not viewed it yet,” Paita told the Guardian.
“There was also a mention of an economic zone and industrial zone to be built there, but this is not true. We have no plans for any such zones for Western Province.”
To proceed, the plans would also need to secure approval from local landholders and several layers of government.
The WYW Holding chief executive, Terence Mo, wrote in the letter to prime minister James Marape it would be “an honour” to work with the PNG government on creating “economic growth through infrastructure development”.
It said its “ambitious plan” was “predicated on an agreed sovereign guarantee based on a long-term BOT [build-operate-transfer] contract”.
A build-operate-transfer contract would give ownership of the project to the company for a contracted period of time, likely decades.
Paita said that the only project in Daru that the government was aware of was a $204bn fisheries industrial park, proposed by Fujian Zhonghong Fishery Company. A memorandum of understanding for that project has been signed with the governor of Western Province.
A spokesman for Marape told the ABC he was “unaware” of the project but added: “However, if a foreign investor wants to come to PNG with multimillion kina investments, PNG will not stop them … on the condition our legal laws are complied with and local Papua New Guineans benefit.”
Australia’s home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, said he was keen to discuss the Daru City proposal with the PNG government.
“We’ve got an incredibly close working relationship with prime minister Marape and the PNG government,” he told the Nine network.
“We will have a look at it. I think there are all sorts of sovereignty issues and there are local issues, in terms of landowners and land rights, that I think would provide a significant hurdle.
“So we will look at it closely, but Australia will always act in our best interests and we will seek to support our neighbours.”