Debt to China wasn’t on agenda, Samoa PM reveals

Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi. Photo: Misiona Simo.

APIA, 13 SEPTEMBER 2018 (SAMOA OBSERVER) – The “mounting” debt by individual Pacific island countries to China was not discussed during the Pacific Island Forum Leaders meeting in Nauru last week.

Contrary to reports that some Forum members wanted to raise the idea of a collective letter from the Forum asking China to forgive some of the debt, Prime Minister Tuilaepa said the matter was never raised.

“You don’t talk about anything that is not on the agenda,” he said. “Besides forgiveness is divinely bilateral in spirit!”

Tuilaepa did not elaborate.

But he revealed the development in an interview released by his Office upon his return from the Nauru meeting.

Samoa’s current debt to China stands at $416 million.

Although the issue of debt to China was not raised, the tensions between China and Taiwan were quite obvious. At the meeting, a special envoy from China, Du Qiwen, was denied the chance to address the post Forum dialogue with partners. This followed a row erupted over visas for the Chinese delegation.

Tuilaepa confirmed the incident.

“There are 18 members of the Pacific Islands Forum,” he said.

“Six of the members have diplomatic relations with China Taiwan and the other 12 have diplomatic relations with the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC).

“In many international organizations, there are different approaches to the two Chinas.  Some recognize only PRC, others recognize both PRC and Taiwan which is referred to officially as China Taiwan.

Tuilaepa said the “unfortunate uneasiness always exists” at the Forum given that China and Taiwan are both partners of PIF members.

“The new Chairman, the President of Nauru had ruled at our Meeting with our Partners that due to time constraints the envoy of PRC. would be given the opportunity at a later time to address the meeting.

“The envoy from PRC had already at this stage distributed to all leaders a copy of his address and it was an excellent speech.  We later discussed this issue at our Leaders’ Retreat and a change in procedure should be in place for the next PIF in Tuvalu to avoid this kind of incidence from occurring again.

“It is the PIF Leaders’ tradition to always deal with sensitive issues through the Talanoa process, and never through confrontation. The integrity and solidarity of PIF is of utmost importance!”

It was revealed that the new Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Baron Waqa, will seek a formal apology from China over the spat.

“From this meeting in Nauru, going forward, we will not allow this kind of behaviour in our Pacific meeting space,” Waqa said.

“His behaviour in front of our leaders, ministers and officials was uncalled for. Would he behave like that in front of his President? I doubt it. He disrespected the Pacific and its leaders and our dialogue partners who had come to join us in our own meeting.

“Look at him, he is a nobody. He is not even a minister and demanding to be recognised and to speak before the Prime Minister of Tuvalu. Is he crazy?

“We will go further than that. We will not only ask for a formal apology, we will actually take it up to the United Nations. Not only that I will mention it at the UN and every international meeting to raise our concerns about this incident.

“Never mind they are bigger than us, but they should not disrespect us.”

It was not possible to get a comment from the Chinese government ….

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