New Samoa Leader Abandoning $ 100 Million China-Supported Belt and Road Project

Samoa’s next prime minister has promised to abolish China-backed US $ 100 million port development, saying it is overkill for a small Pacific island that already has a large debt to Beijing.

The move represents a major policy shift in the country amid growing concerns about the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) pushing soft power into the South Pacific region.

Fiamme Naomi Mataafa, who will become Samoa’s first female prime minister, said she aims to maintain good relations with Chinese authorities, but said the project is not a priority.

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Samoan MP Fiame Naomi Mata’afa will speak at the Pacific Parliament and Political Leaders Forum at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand on April 18, 2013 (Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images).

“Samoa is a small country. Our ports and airports meet our needs,” Fiamme told Reuters by phone from Apia.

“If there are more imminent projects that the government needs to prioritize, it’s hard to imagine that the scale proposed under this particular project would be needed.”

The proposed wharf was assigned to construction in Vaiusa Bay near the capital Apia. Its construction was a divisive issue that was highlighted in the recent April elections when incumbent Samoa leader Tuirae Pasay Relemari Elegaoi lost a majority in parliament.

Fiamme’s position marks a major shift from the policy of Tuira Epa, which maintained friendly relations with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during the 20-year prime ministerial era of the Pacific nation.

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September 18, 2018, Samoa of former Prime Minister Tuiraepa-Rupesorai-Sairere-Marieregaoi (L) is, it met with Xi Jinping China president in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing of China. (Lintao Zhang / Pool / Getty Images)

“The level of our government’s debt to the Chinese government was an urgent issue for voters,” said Fiamme, a former deputy prime minister who joined the opposition FAST party last year.

Global Times, the CCP mouthpiece, According to the decision He said it was a “minor setback” for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of the Chinese administration.

BRI is CCP’s $ 1 trillion global infrastructure financing program. They have been criticized for making huge loans to developing countries, many of whom are unable to repay their debts.

For example, in 2017, the Sri Lankan government agreed to transfer Hambantota Harbor to CCP on a 99-year lease after agreeing to convert $ 1.4 billion in debt into shares.

Today, China is Samoa’s largest creditor, with a population of only 200,000, accounting for about 40% of its external debt, or $ 160 million. Its economy relies primarily on subsistence agriculture, in addition to tourism, fishing and coconut exports.

It has also relied heavily on development funding from major powers.

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The general view is that locals buy fish from vendors during a Sunday morning trade at the Apia Fish Market in Apia, Samoa on September 13, 2015 (Mark Kolbe / GettyImages).

Incumbent leader Tuira Epa said Pacific nations should be solely responsible for unsustainable debt. According to a Samoa Observer report, he supported the Weius Wharf project, which would create coveted jobs and increase trade and tourism.

Faumuina Wayne Fong, a member of parliament in the western region of the city engaged in a verbal war with the Prime Minister on this issue, said the project could have military uses. Samoa Observer..

“Why is a small country like Samoa exporting about 30 percent? [its economic output] Import about 40% of [its economy] Need a wharf to accommodate 12 ships? ” He said.

“Why do I say it must be a military wharf because it’s definitely not for imports and exports,” Fong said.

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu warned in 2019 that Beijing could expand beyond soft power efforts in the South Pacific and eventually militarize the region.

“We’ve seen reports that China is interested in reopening this radar station in Kiribati and building a naval base in the western provinces of the Solomon Islands,” he said. 2019 Pacific Islands Dialogue..

“I certainly don’t want to see the Pacific turn into another South China Sea. One day I sigh that it’s too late for us to do anything.”

Earlier this month, Reuters reported that Beijing was conducting a feasibility study to upgrade its runway on one of the islands of Kiribati, deep in its traditionally allied territory with the United States. .. However, the Kiribati government claims that the runway is for private use.

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