Special Envoy for China-Pacific Islands Forum Dialogue Du Qiwen and Prime Minister Henry Puna signed the letters of exchange in a short ceremony yesterday, finally completing the paperwork for the rebuild project.
This comes after the “commitment ceremony” China held during Augusts’ Constitution Celebrations.
Changes to the way funding is approved and processed have caused the delay: the original concept was to build the new school this year.
Yesterday Puna said he was pleased with the effort made by Chinese officials to push through the proposal.
He said the timing had worked for the government, as they could begin the rebuild during the school summer holidays.
Asked about the delay, Qiwen said officials should be praised for their hard work in pushing the rebuild paperwork through.
He also wanted to highlight the ‘special relationship’ between the Cook Islands and the People’s Republic of China.
Qiwen then thanked Puna for the Cook Islands support of their goal of national reunification and the One China Policy – which does not acknowledge the independence of Taiwan.
International commentators have highlighted the importance China has placed on gaining support from Pacific Island nations on this issue.
Uncertainty about the Apii Nikao school rebuild has been long-running.
After the destruction of part of Avatea Primary School in 2014 in an arson attack, it was decided to merge Avatea with nearby Nikao Maori School into one school called Apii Nikao.
The Apii Nikao School Rebuild Committee approved the demolition of Avatea and Nikao Maori schools in late 2014.
Their decision then was based on indications from Chinese officials that China was supportive of the school rebuild project and eager to assist the Cook Islands with constructing the school for the August 50th anniversary celebrations. However, CINews reported in March 2015 that rebuilding the new Apii Nikao modern learning environment school could take up to three years, due to changes in the People’s Republic of China’s funding process.
Minister of Finance Mark Brown said the design plans for Apii Nikao were with the school and with the handover ceremony complete, design and construction could start soon.