China, Australia announce Pacific donations plans

By Soli Wilson 22 May 2020, 10:00AM

The People’s Republic of China says it continues to hold true to its cooperation with the Pacific after the country's Ambassador announced a new ‘China Pacific Island Countries Joint COVID-19 Response Fund' on Thursday.

But that announcement was also preceded by reports overnight that Australia would redirect AU$100 million in aid for financial support packages for Pacific nations including Samoa, which would reportedly receive AUD$10.5 (T$18.5) under the scheme.

The Chinese Ambassador to Samoa, Chao Xiaoling, announced China's new regional programme on Thursday while presenting US$200,000 to the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (S.P.R.E.P.).

 Ambassador Chao said that China is doing its best to open its economy to provide assistance for the Pacific countries, including Samoa.

The Ambassador would not be drawn, when asked for details on whether the new Response Fund would see economic aid to Samoa raised to levels provided by Australia, often seen as the country’s main strategic rival in the region. 

“We have already set up special funds: [the] China Pacific Island Countries Joint COVID-19 Response Fund. We have already provided US$250,000 cash to Samoan Government within that fund,” he said in an interview with the Samoa Observer.

“We will continue to do [that] with our capacity in this situation. And for us, as we have gotten the virus under control generally, we try to open our economy.

“I hope with the involvement of the situation between China and Samoa, we can be open again and continue with our [ongoing] projects.”

Since the virus took hold of the global operations, delays have been met with the implementation of major Chinese Government-funded projects in Samoa.

Projects affected include the proposed police academy, three primary schools, the Vaiusu port and the China-Samoa Friendship Park Culture and Arts Centre.

The Ambassador said they are anticipating the opening of Samoa’s borders in order to bring in both the materials and manpower needed for the projects.

“We are waiting for the end of the state of emergency so our engineer can come in, including the materials,” he said.

The Australian economic aid programme, reported exclusively by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Wednesday, would involve the immediate redirection of aid projects to immediate cash injections to COVID-19 stricken economies.

"Australia is providing separate support packages for Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Nauru, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Tuvalu and Timor-Leste,” said a spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (D.F.A.T.).

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the expedited AU$100 million in economic support would include: AU$20.5 million in economic support for Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and AU$13 million for Vanuatu. Timor-Leste will receive AU$10 million, while Fiji, Samoa and Tonga AU$10.5 million each. Nauru and Kiribati will each receive AU$4.5 million and AU$3 million for Tuvalu.

China is Samoa’s largest debtor and currently has loans to the value of US$400 million outstanding to the country. 

But despite reports that the two countries, who have for the last five years been the largest donors in the Pacific arena, Ambassador Chao has previously dismissed claims of a rivalry for political influence being played out through donations as outmoded Cold War thinking. 

On May 13, Samoa was amongst other Pacific Island nations who convened in a special meeting on COVID-19 via video link with the Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang of China, and Foreign Minister Patrick Pruaitch of Papua New Guinea co-chairing.

During their virtual meeting, Pacific Island countries spoke highly of the China-Pacific Island Countries Joint COVID-19 Response Fund, expressing gratitude for the medical supplies provided by the Chinese Central Government, Guangdong Province and various sectors across the Chinese society.

In the multilateral arena, China had donated US$50 million to the World Health Organization for the combatting of the pandemic while also setting up US$2 billion of special funds to support anti-COVID19 cooperation.

By Soli Wilson 22 May 2020, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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