Why China’s growing influence is attracting global attention

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 14 May 2018, 12:00AM

Whether you love or loathe the work of China in Samoa and the Pacific, this one thing cannot be denied. 

The Pacific Island nations owe them a big vote of thanks for drawing the world’s attention back to the region – which some of the bigger nations had ignored for some time. 

You only have to look at the reaction from France, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and most recently Australia and New Zealand to know China’s work in the Pacific is making them very uncomfortable. 

Today, they have finally woken from their slumber with all of them renewing their promises to strengthen their work in the Pacific region. 

And from what we’ve seen so far, the one thing they are now admitting is that they need to do more for the Pacific. From Paris, London, Washington DC, Canberra, to Wellington, it is the same reaction. 

Take the New Zealand government for instance. Last week, New Zealand Foreign Minister, Vaovasamanaia Winston Peters, announced a budget increase of NZ$714 million (T$1.2billion) for the Pacific. That’s a whopping increase by any standard.

Here in Apia, the news has come as music to ears of New Zealand High Commissioner to Samoa, David Nicholson. He said this is a clear and positive message about New Zealand’s relationship with Samoa and the wider region.

 “New Zealand is of the Pacific, we want our region to thrive, and we value the close connections that we enjoy,” said Mr. Nicholson. “With this funding, we will assist all of our Pacific partners to make progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals; support youth across the region with access to health services, education and training; support good governance, human rights, and gender equality; and promote the sustainable and inclusive growth of Pacific economies. 

“This announcement is good news for Samoa, and the wider Pacific, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Government of Samoa in the further development of our Countries’ shared priorities.” 

We couldn’t agree more. This is in fact the best news we’ve heard from New Zealand in terms of aid for a long time. But it’s not just New Zealand.

President Macron’s historical visit to the Pacific two weeks ago is another sign that France is serious about increasing its engagement in the region. We’ve seen India made a similar move. The United States has been making a lot of noises about the issue. 

The United Kingdom recently announced the establishment of several Embassies in the region – including one in Samoa – which is a sign that they are also looking at increasing their voice in the region.

Closer to home, we know Australia is taking China’s  growing influence very seriously.

All this global attention is good news for the Pacific countries. It means more assistance, which should translate to changing lives for the better. 

 The fact is that if China’s growing influence in Samoa and many other Pacific countries had not become such a visible threat to some of these big countries, many of them would have continued to ignore this part of the world.

But China’s rise in the Pacific has not only angered them, some of them have finally woken up to the fact that unless they react now, the Pacific will soon become another part of China – if that hasn’t already happened in some places. 

Now the issue of China’s aid and their intentions remains a sensitive one. 

It has been a controversial topic from the start and it will continue to be the case as long as China continues to open its wallet to the Pacific countries.

Which is precisely what the Pacific countries need. They don’t need any more promises, they want to see action.

At the end of the day, it works out well for China. They know that many Pacific countries are desperate and in their desperation, they would welcome any assistance – whether it’s in a form of a grant or a loan. China is only too happy to oblige. And in doing so, they have become the saviour in the eyes of many Pacific nations – including Samoa.

Which is something all these other countries will increasingly find difficult to keep up with. Stay tuned! Have a great Tuesday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 14 May 2018, 12:00AM

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