Speaking at the opening of new Apii Nikao building yesterday, Puna said he is saddened by posts on social media which put China in a bad light.
He also clarified the $14 million dollar Apii Nikao rebuild project was a gift and not a loan, as alluded by some critics.
“This is a gift, so honour the Chinese because they have gifted and supported us,” Puna said in the Cook Islands Maori language.
China has come under attack for its efforts to build influence in the Pacific. It has been accused of currying favour with the region’s smaller nations by funneling cash into little-used infrastructure projects.
However, Puna said Cook Islands relationship with China was more than just about building and structures.
“This (project) is clear reflection and manifestation of the very close relationship that exists between the two countries,” Puna said.
“We have come a long way. In the 21 years we have been friends, we have achieved a lot and in many ways our partnership and our friendship has established new high standards of diplomatic relationship in the world.”
Puna said in the short time the two countries have shared diplomatic ties, China had built many public buildings and infrastructure in the Cook Islands.
“We have cooperated for the first time in a trilateral partnership in order to achieve the completion of Te Mato Vai which is still ongoing and today we are celebrating a $14m gift from the People’s Republic of China.”
In an assuring gesture, the Ambassador for the People’s Republic of China to the Cook Islands, Wu Xi, said the Chinese government would continue to support the economic and social development of the Cook Islands.
She said China stands ready to work more closely with the Cook Islands on the basis of equality, mutual respect and mutual benefit to bring their bilateral relations to a higher level for the benefits of the people and for the sake of peace, stability and prosperity in the region and beyond.
“The Apii Nikao school project is an excellent demonstration of mutually beneficial cooperation between our two countries as well as a symbol of friendship between our two people,” she said.
“It once again reflects China’s efforts in assisting the Cook Islands to improve its people’s well-being and to promote the sustainable development of the Cook Islands society and economy.”
With three new classroom blocks covering about 5200 square metres, the newly-built Apii Nikao features flexible learning spaces made up of large learning areas for each grade and break-out spaces for individual or small-group learning.
Over the coming weeks, more than 350 students from early childhood to Year 8 will move into these new learning spaces, along with teachers and teacher resources. - RK