Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Meeting on the sidelines of the 26th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Summit, the two leaders exchanged views on bilateral ties and pragmatic cooperation.
But Xi’s meeting with the leaders of eight Pacific Island states on Friday was not without controversy, with reports later emerging of the banning of local and international media from covering the discussions—with only members of the Chinese media given access to the conference venue.
During the meeting with Tuilaepa, Xi pointed out that the bilateral relations between the two nations face new opportunities for development.
He called on both sides to adhere to a high degree of political mutual trust, continue supporting each other on issues of their core interests and major concerns, expand cooperation in various fields within China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework and increase people-to-people exchanges.
Xi also said that China supports Samoa in hosting the 2019 Pacific Games and will continue supporting the country to improve its capability to tackle climate change.
Tuilaepa said since Samoa established diplomatic relations with China, it has firmly adhered to the One-China policy and expressed gratitude to China for assisting Samoa in infrastructure construction, which enabled it to upgrade its status from being a least developed country and promote its development.
The Prime Minister also added that Samoa is willing to advance major cooperation projects with China under the BRI framework.
The Chinese president also met Peter Christian, the Federated States of Micronesia president, Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna, Prime Minister Samuela Akilisi Pohiva of Tonga, Niue Premier Toke Talagi and the Fiji Defense Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.
Pictures of local and international journalists—who were put on a bus and taken out of the conference venue in Port Moresby—were circulated on social media, triggering widespread condemnation. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), whose correspondent Natalie Whiting was among journalists asked to leave, reported that Chinese officials asked the media to vacate the premises.
Twenty-four hours after the meeting between the Chinese president and the Pacific leaders, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told the 2018 APEC CEO Summit in Port Moresby that America does not want countries in the Indo-Pacific region to fall into the Chinese debt diplomacy, and instead choose U.S. development financing.
“We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt. We don’t coerce or compromise your independence. We do not offer a constricting belt or a one-way road,” he said, before announcing that the U.S. will partner with Australia and P.N.G. to build a naval base on Manus Island IN P.N.G.
The 2018 APEC Leaders Summit in Port Moresby officially ends today.