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Samoa stands up to China–says will not fall into a debt trap

Samoa to cancel Chinese projects (Image: Google Maps)

The tiny pacific island republic Samoa has decided to get out of the Chinese debt trap. The country’s newly appointed first female prime minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa is set to review China-funded infrastructure development projects as they have increased the country's debt.

After winning elections, she had  pledged to cancel a $100m port development backed by China. Calling the plan, ‘excessive burden” for the country’s needs. 

“Samoa has more pressing needs than a wharf in Vaiusu Bay,”  Mataafa said that it would increase its “unnecessary” debts to China, reported Nikkei Asia citing Reuters.

“Samoa is a small country. Our seaports and our airports cater for our needs," Fiame told the Reuters news agency. “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.”

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 influence in the region.

The recently formed  Mataafa’s Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party won power in the country’s election in April, the first change in government in almost four decades. Chinese influence was a hotly debated topic during the election campaign, with many expressing concern about Beijing’s presence there.

China has offered to back the construction of a huge port development in Vaiusu Bay, part of its efforts to rival the United States for influence in the Pacific.

But with the new government in place, Samoa’s close relationship with China is going to be redefined after four decades. 

Over the past decades China’s lending to Samoa has grown dramatically as the economic superpower has tried to buy influence and allies in the Pacific, including through its Belt and Road infrastructure plan.

China is the single largest creditor in Samoa, a country of 200,000 people, accounting for about 40 per cent, or about US$160 million, of the small nation's external debts. Between 2010 and 2018, China advanced $285 million in loans to Samoa and a further $152m in grants. Samoa is one of the most heavily indebted countries in the world to China, owing the equivalent of 19.9 percent of its gross domestic product to the country. 

The change in government comes at a time when there is increased focus on the Pacific by its traditional allies – the US, New Zealand and Australia – due to concerns that China’s growing presence there could undermine the three countries’ national security.

No doubt that  China is interested in infrastructures and lands of the tiny country to make air and naval bases, showing a  pipe dream to locals but  it comes with a huge debt.

Also Read: China's bid for Indo-Pacific foothold backfires in Samoa

Also Read: Tiny Montenegro becomes the first EU country to fall into the Chinese Debt Trap