The mystery at the Asau wharf and China’s aid

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 07 December 2018, 12:00AM

So who is telling the truth with regards to funding for the Asau Wharf? That’s the million-tala question today after conflicting stories have emerged from key players in this project. 

What should have been a really simple straightforward story has suddenly become a mystery for reasons that are beyond me. Why can’t they just tell the truth? If China is funding it, what’s new? What’s so secretive about China funding it given that just about everything in Samoa is funded by China these days? 

Here is what we know. In April, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi announced in Parliament that the government had secured funding to widen and deepen the channel at the Asau Wharf. 

For the uninitiated, the wharf in question, considered Samoa’s most protected harbour, is not fully fit for use. But it is a sleeping giant in terms of trade and tourism potential.

Which is why the announcement by Prime Minister Tuilaepa was exciting, not just for the people of Savai’i but especially to Asau’s Member of Parliament and the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mu’a, who immediately saw a goldmine.

 “This is going to trigger the re-use of the port because once that is done no matter what we do on the wharf I tell you, this will help the economic growth in Savai’i,” he said. “It will stop migration to Apia and there’s a lot of lands where companies can come and lease because they are all customary lands in Asau.”

But then he said something else – which now we know he shouldn’t have said. 

“The Prime minister announced that funding through the Chinese government has been secured to deepen and widen the channel in the Asau Harbour.”

Fast forward to today, that statement has become a very contentious issue. It is even more contentious following a story in The Australian last week, which raised questions about China’s motives in the Pacific.

The story tells us that a Chinese hydrographic surveyor was “discreetly brought in earlier this year to map the port.” It continues that China’s involvement has raised red flags with military analyst-s, who warned that the port could lead to a “salient right through the heart” of America’s defences in the South Pacific or threaten Australia’s east-coast trade routes to the US.

The same story goes on to quote an Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst, Malcolm Davis, as saying that if the Chinese were able to access a Samoan port, the risk would be that it could lead to a military base. He said the other issue was that a base in the southwest Pacifi-c would be well positioned to sit astride trade routes from the east coast of Australia to the US.

 “They could potentially coerce Australia in that regard and project power to the north up to Micronesia, Guam and potentially Hawaii,’’ Dr. Davis said.

Former US diplomat and retired marine colonel Grant Newsham warned that the Chinese could use the same tactics by which they obtain a military base in Djibout-i, on the Horn of Africa.

 “It’s the Chinese modus operandi,’’ Colonel Newsham said. “You can see how it played out in Djibout-i, where they got the governmen-t to toss out the Dubai ports company that controlled the port.”

Colonel Newsham said any sort of port type access for China could lead to a “salient right through the heart” of the US, Japanese and Australian defences. 

“It’s getting in behind the American, Japanese and Australian defence.”

Back in Samoa, Prime Minister Tuilaepa immediately rubbished the article, calling it “stupid” as he does.

 “The project that we have in discussions with China is the Vaiusu port,” he said.

“Look. We are very bright people. We will never do that thing of building a thing we can’t pay for. Don’t underestimate us. You should tell off those journalists. 

“As I said, I like that journalist for his stupidity, in one instance is helping us in another. His stupidity is helping us to expose to whichever rich Arabian somewhere, that there is a port that needs to be built that will be excellent for fishing!”

As for China’s Ambassador to Samoa, Wang Xuefeng, he was apparently shocked, saying he wasn’t aware of any negotiations.

“I have to check this news and I will answer you,” he said. “I don’t know and I am not aware. I haven’t heard of this and I am not aware of the whole thing. I will read the news first.”

Well now that he’s read it, can he tell us what’s happening? 

Have a wonderful weekend Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 07 December 2018, 12:00AM

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