Vaitele killing another tragic reminder to address the root causes

The past couple of days have been very sad for many of us in this country.

While the threat posed by the measles epidemic, which was finally declared by the Ministry of Health yesterday would have everyone on edge, it’s a tragedy of another kind that is heavy on our minds.

We are talking about the extremely disturbing developments at Vaitele which we woke up to on Sunday morning, where an innocent Chinese man was murdered. It’s the sort of news no one wants, especially on a weekend that was supposed to have been for families to spend together and enjoy each other’s company.

Sadly for that of the slain Cao Yaqin, last weekend would be remembered for the horror and the tragedy it was.

From what we’ve been told, four men armed with machetes and knives broke into the Pacific Trade and Industry Compound. They allegedly wanted to steal a “large quantity” of money on the premises when their criminal plan was interrupted. During the ensuing confrontation, Mr. Yaqin was killed.

Two other Chinese nationals were injured and required urgent medical attention. As of today, four men have been arrested, charged with murder, attempted murder, burglary, theft, being armed with dangerous weapons and assault.

It’s undeniable that this is a very, very sad time for Samoa for the simple reason that you wouldn’t expect this sort of thug-like gangster behaviour on these shores. Once upon a time in this country, this was the stuff you could only see in the movies.

Indeed, the idea that in Samoa today, we have people who will stop at nothing, including killing an innocent person, to get what they want, is sending chills down the spine. Add the dimension of foreigners being targeted; this case the Chinese, and we have a huge problem on our hands.

Today, our Government leaders, Church leaders, village leaders, family leaders and all the people of Samoa cannot ignore this. If we turn a blind eye and continue to pretend this is just another crime, we will soon reach a point where no one is safe in this country.

The condemnation of the murder, as expected, has come thick and fast. On the front page of yesterday’s Samoa Observer, the Ambassador of China to Samoa, Xiao Xiaoliang, issued a very clear message.

 “The Embassy condemns the violent attack on the Chinese,” he said in a statement. “The Chinese government attaches great importance to the safety and legal interests of all Chinese living overseas.”

The Embassy also requested the “Samoan government to pay high attention to the case and do a thorough investigation on it in a timely manner.”

Apart from the Police, who immediately issued a statement calling on members of the Chinese business community to “use our bank institutions to safe guard your hard earned money,” we have yet to hear from the Government.

One senior Member of Parliament though has not wasted time. In condemning the attack, the Associate Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi, went further and described it as “hate crime.” He called for tougher laws to address what appears to be a trend of “anti-Chinese violence.”

“The Samoa Government has invested into the stability and the safety of our [local] Chinese [population and] foreign Chinese brothers and sisters; and the actions of these thugs have threatened the [harmony] already in place," Lealailepule said. Looking ahead, should the Government pass a new law, the Member of Parliament said there should be a maximum of 20 years’ jail for criminals convicted of harming foreigners in Samoa, to “protect expats, tourists and foreign nationals.”

 “This cycle of violence against the Chinese is a trend that should be addressed immediately.”

We couldn’t agree more with Lealailepule. Today, we believe his voice is one of reason, reflecting how most Samoans feel about what has happened. The sad part about this is that it only takes a few rotten apples to spoil something.

But lets not kid ourselves here, the fact is that for the past few years, the alarm bells have been ringing on the rising number of attacks against Chinese business people.

On the pages of this newspaper, we’ve lost count of the number of incidents reported. One of them led to the death on the seawall last year during a robbery. Another most recent case involved a Chinese businesswoman who was punched on the face when a man tried to run away with money from her shop.

But these are just a few examples of many. Even former Chief Justice, Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu had highlighted the problem, calling for urgent attention to the matter.

Now the jury remains out there on whether these attacks were motivated by race. But the facts we can establish so far is that, and perhaps draw a conclusion albeit premature, is that these attackers are criminals who want nothing more but money. From what we can see, it could be that they see the Chinese as easy targets.

Keep in mind that these criminals don’t just target visitors. We’ve heard many stories of innocent local residents who have also become victims – which is what we should all be alarmed about.

Which brings us to the question, what is the Government doing about this? What we can say is that the Government needs to do more than merely condemning these attacks. Folks, the signs have been there and continue to be there that there is something terribly amiss, in the make up of this country today.

In Samoa today, there are far too many poor, unemployed abled bodied men who do nothing but think about how to make easy money – including from criminal means. They do not have the will to work for anything, rather they just envy how the Chinese, or anybody else, are making their money and then they commit the unthinkable. Add the fact that cheap alcohol is so easily accessible, we have got a deadly equation on our hands.

We believe this is what is responsible for the rise in petty crimes in this country today. These problems cannot be ignored, they are staring us in the face every day. The poor Chinese have become easy targets, but they will not stop there. No one is safe unless the leaders of this nation and everyone in this country start to address the root causes.

Our deepest condolences to the Chinese community in Samoa.


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