No need to burn our bridges over Australia and China row

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The truth is simple enough. Australian Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells might have sounded rather undiplomatic in her criticisms of China’s aid to the Pacific region but we cannot deny that she does have a very valid point. 

Her concern about China saddling the Pacific countries with mounting debt they could end up not being able to pay are particularly poignant and well placed. 

The leaders of the Pacific would do very well to listen, take it for what it is worth and use it where needed. And if they feel that Fierravanti-Wells’ concerns are not relevant, then they can ignore it.

But to do that would be at their peril. We say this because when look at what’s happening in some parts of the world today, we cannot be ignorant about the lessons we are seeing. One of them comes from countries that have defaulted on their debt.  

Could that happen to Samoa? Of course not if you listen to the official tune being sung by Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration. And we truly hope that is the case. 

That said; we believe things happen for a reason. And Australia’s concerns should not be brushed aside and dismissed.

Keep in mind that long before China became a super power in the world, Australia and our traditional partners like New Zealand had always been helping the Pacific in different ways. It might not have been in the grand way that China is helping the Pacific countries today, but it was much needed help nonetheless. 

Aid dynamics have changed remarkably over the years of course to the point where other countries are struggling to keep up with China’s aid programme.

Australia for instance, if Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells’ comments are anything to judge by, has become a tad annoyed. 

“You’ve got the Pacific full of these useless buildings which no body maintains, which are basically white elephants,” Fierravanti-Wells told The Australian.

She added that sustaining debt was a significant threat to economic stability of countries in the Pacific.

“We work cooperatively with China and we encourage China to utilize its development assistance in a productive and effective manner,” she added. “We just don’t want to build something for the heck of building it. We just don’t want to build a road that doesn’t go anywhere.”

Her comments are debatable but that’s obviously how she feels. This is a free world and she could perhaps be vocalising something many people feel strongly about and yet are afraid to say.

In response, China has lodged a formal protest with the Australian government, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said Fierravanti-Wells’ comments “show scant regard for the facts and are nothing but irresponsible.”

“For a long time, on the basis of fully respecting the will of the Pacific island countries’ governments and people and taking into full account their development needs, China has offered a great deal of assistance to them,” Lu told reporters. “Chinese aid had significantly fueled the economic and social development of these countries and delivered tangible benefits to the local people.”

Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Tuilaepa has immediately leapt to the defense of China, to the point where he has even mocked their assistance describing one of the projects as an “assorted gift.” 

 “I am certainly surprised with the comments made by Australia’s Development Minister. They are quite insulting to the leaders of the Pacific Island nations,” Tuilaepa said.  

“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.”

Okay then, if that’s how you feel Mr. Prime Minister.

But we disagree. Undiplomatic the comments might be but these things should only strengthen the relationship between the nations, if they are truly genuine about such relationships. 

Besides why should China care if they know the comments are incorrect? This is a free world after all where people are entitled to their opinions.

Leaders will only become uncomfortable and resort to cheap and childish name-calling and finger pointing when they know what’s being said is true.

Now Australian Minister Fierravanti-Wells might have come across as strange in her comments but Prime Minister Tuilaepa would do well to remember that Samoa needs both Australia and China. 

He could have stayed above it all and let Australia and China have their fight.  He didn’t have to be childish in his response, especially describing Australia’s aid as an “assorted gift.”

There is no doubt at all that China is Samoa’s best friend today. That is as clear as daylight and it will continue to be for a long time.

But perhaps someone should remind Prime Minister Tuilaepa and our leaders not to burn one’s bridges; one day we might need them.

What do you think? Write and share your thoughts with us!

Have a great Thursday Samoa, God bless!

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