China’s aid, those “ignorant” critics and that $1.1billion public debt

The new face of China in Samoa, Ambassador Chao Xiaoliang, has been making his presence felt since he arrived in March.

In the last few months, Ambassador Xiaoliang has been reaching out and meeting members of the community, making key contacts and strengthening strategic relations to advance the links between his country and his new port of call.

Nothing you wouldn’t expect from an official, whose primary objective is to represent the interests of his country to the best he knows how.

But he’s been doing more than that. While he’s been doing the day-to-day diplomatic rounds, he has also not shied away from responding to questions and criticisms of China’s development work in the Pacific, which has been a contentious point for some years now.

In diplomatic circles, it’s not common for diplomats to tackle such criticisms head on. Normally they would leave that to the politicians.

And in this part of the world, we don’t need to tell you about China’s battle with other world powers for influence and control. It is a well-debated topic, one that has been discussed at length for many years, and will continue to dominate national and international conversations for years to come.

Why? It’s simple. Just as small countries like Samoa and many others remain vulnerable to the impact of climate change, we are also at the mercy of outcomes and decisions made by these big nations, especially China and U.S.A.

Ladies and gentlemen, gone are the days when we used to say that "When Washington sneezes, the world catches a cold". Given China’s growing influence in the Pacific, the common phrase can now be applied to Beijing. 

Which brings us back to Samoa and Ambassador Xiaoliang. On 20 August, 2019 he sent this newspaper an opinion piece, requesting that it be published. 

And because we believe in everyone having the freedom to express their views, we duly obliged and published the opinion under the headline “About China's Aid to Samoa.” For our online readers, a story titled “Ridiculous, prejudiced, ignorant': Ambassador slams criticism of Chinese aid” was written based on that opinion piece.

Some parts of the piece itself are worth revisiting today. For instance, Ambassador Xiaoliang goes to great lengths to highlight the flourishing relationship between Samoa and China since the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two nations in 1975. The piece goes on to talk about practical cooperation, people-to-people exchange, mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual support where Samoa and China are building a model of friendship despite the differences in size and social systems.

The Ambassador goes a step further to highlight that the friendship between Samoa and China is the ”epitome of the friendship between China and the Pacific Island countries.” Which is fantastic, isn’t it? Who wouldn’t be proud of that.

But there was something that really annoyed Ambassador Xiaoliang. These are people who “questioned the purpose of China's aid, even disregarded the facts and fabricated the so-called "China debt trap".

According to the Ambassador, these people are either “prejudice or ignorant of China's foreign aid policy.” Then he tries to set the record straight.

“Firstly, China's foreign aid is offered on the basis of equality, with full respect for the will of the governments and people of the recipient countries. It comes without interfering in their domestic affairs or attaching any political strings,” wrote the Ambassador.

“Secondly, China always ensures that the foreign aid be mutual beneficial and win-win. All relevant projects have been conducted with careful feasibility study and scientific research (including environmental impact assessment), taking the financial sustainability of the recipient countries into consideration.

“Thirdly, China's foreign aid is of sustainability, endeavoring to strengthen the recipient countries’ capability of “blood creation”, not simply of “blood transfusion”, and assisting them in overcoming their development bottlenecks and achieving independent and sustainable development.

“Fourthly, China offers foreign aid in a manner of openness, aiming at making the pie of cooperation bigger instead of targeting any third party. China is willing to carry out third-party cooperation with other countries.”

Lastly, Ambassador Xiaoliang leaves a parting shot.

“As a Chinese saying goes, “Distance tests a horse’s strength. Time will reveal a person’s sincerity”. No one knows better than the people and governments of the recipient countries on whether China’s aid is productive or not,” he wrote.

Well that’s a good point Mr. Ambassador. Only time can tell indeed.

Looking at Samoa today, what do you think?

All we are thinking of is another story titled “Public debt rises to $1.11 billion” published two Sundays ago.  According to figures from the Ministry of Finance, Samoa’s total foreign debt stands at $1.1 billion, $440 million of that is owed to the Chinese government, making them this country's current largest creditor.

By any estimation, that’s not a small amount of money, especially for a country that doesn’t have a lot of money to start with. How on earth is Samoa going to pay all that back? And let’s not forget the old adage that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Stay tuned!

Have a wonderful Thursday Samoa, God bless! 

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