Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi has strongly defended China’s role in the Pacific amidst a deepening diplomatic row involving Australia’s International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.
Last week, Ms. Fierravanti-Wells launched an unprovoked scathing attack on China’s aid to the Pacific countries – including Samoa.
She accused the Chinese of building "roads to nowhere" and constructing "useless buildings" which will only leave Pacific countries with debts they cannot pay.
But Tuilaepa disagrees.
He launched a broadside at Ms. Fierravanti-Wells in an interview with the government-owned Savali Newspaper, released to the media last night.
“I am certainly surprised with the comments made by Australia’s Development Minister,” Tuilaepa said.
“They are quite insulting to the leaders of the Pacific Island nations.
“To me as Chairman of the Pacific Leaders Forum, the comments question the integrity, wisdom and intelligence of the leaders of the Pacific Islands to judge what is good for our own people.
“These types of comments can damage the excellent relationships that exist between Australia and the Pacific Island countries, particularly Samoa.”
Tuilaepa said he can only speak for Samoa and as the Prime Minister, he welcomes assistance from China.
“In fact, China comes to our assistance on the basis of our requests, on what we know is suitable for Samoa.
“The Australian Development Minister has made reference to ‘useless buildings’ and ‘roads to nowhere.’ The buildings funded by China e.g. the courts; T.A.T.T.E., hospital and central Government building have provided modern facilities which considerably raise the excellent working environment for our officials, raising the quality of work and productivity.
“It improves the work ethic of our people and raises the beauty of our own city, which now becomes something of a modern city.
“Reference has also been made by the Minister to the fact that these are very, very expensive in terms of the loans made to build them. In fact, the assistance given by China comes in both grants and concessionary loans.
“Concessionary loans from China mean the grant element is about 27% compared to the grant element of 35% on loans from the soft windows of the World Bank, the I.D.A., and the A.D.B.
“And this is something that we have been talking to the Chinese leaders about to increase the grant element of their loans to us – the very small Pacific Island states who are in the frontline of the fight against Climate Change, for we are the first to sink below the ocean when the sea-level rises.”
Tuilaepa referred to a meeting hosted by China in Fiji a few years ago.
“Several years ago, the leader of China met with the leaders of the Pacific in Fiji and he informed us, the members of the Pacific Island Forum having relationships with Beijing, of the availability of US$2 billion grants and US$2 billion soft loans for our developments.
“So there is quite a lot of assistance given on the basis of grants and it is in the concessionary grant element of the loans that we have been requesting the Government of China to reconsider for some of our projects.”
The full interview will be published in tomorrow’s edition.