A new leader of the Pacific nation is expected to erase Beijing-controlled port development.
Samoa’s expected new prime minister has pledged to shelve a $100 million Beijing-backed port development, calling the project excessive for the small Pacific island that is already heavily indebted to China.
Fiame Naomi Mataafa, the opposition leader set to become Samoa’s first female prime minister after a weeks-long political impasse, said she intended to maintain good relations with China but she had more pressing needs to address.
The proposed construction of the wharf in Vaiusu Bay has been a divisive issue in Samoa, playing a part in April elections where long-serving leader Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi lost his parliamentary majority.
The project has also threatened to spark a waterfront contest in the Pacific as the United States and its allies respond to China’s growing regional influence.
Ms. Fiame, who is expected to become leader after Samoa’s top court on Monday ruled against a challenge to the election result, told Reuters there were more pressing needs than building a new port.
Samoa is a small country. Our seaports and our airports cater for our needs, Ms. Fiame told stated from Samoa’s capital of Apia.
It’s very difficult to imagine that we would need the scale that’s being proposed under this particular project when there are more pressing projects that the government needs to give priority to, he emphasised.
Her stance marks a decisive break from Tuilaepa, whom Beijing has counted on as a close ally of China over his two-decades as leader.
The level of indebtedness of our government to the government of China was a pressing issue for voters, said Ms. Fiame, a former deputy prime minister who joined the opposition FAST party last year. Her government would maintain good relations with both China and the United States, she added.
Communist China is the single largest creditor in Samoa, a country of 200,000 people, accounting for about 40 per cent, or some $160 million, of the small nation’s external debts.
Chinese business a threat to peace in the Indo-Pacific
The Vaiusu port site is located close to the country’s main Apia port in Matautu, which has recently been expanded with financial aid from Japan.
Facilities that could be turned into a military asset in hostile times pose a challenge to the United States and its regional allies, which have dominated international influence in the world’s largest ocean since 1945.