You have been warned, Samoa!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 18 February 2018, 12:00AM

Last week Friday, a story titled “Maldives faces Chinese ‘land grab’ over unpayable debts” surfaced on the front page of the Samoa Observer. 

In light of the recent debate and controversy about Samoa’s foreign debt, customary lands and concerns about the future of this country, the story couldn’t have arrived at a better time, in our humble opinion. 

It’s a timely reminder for us all.

Mind you, not everyone will see it the same way. 

Some people in authority, especially the Government who have been doing everything possible to downplay the issue, will naturally reject the story as just another “idiotic piece of journalism.” 

They will probably say the same thing about yesterday’s front-page story titled “Former Head of State worries about customary lands” and all the coverage of the L.T.R.A. law and more. Which is fine, people after all are entitled to their own opinions.  

In any case, you too can be the judge.

Now according to the story in question from the Maldives, massive debts are threatening to force the Maldives to cede territory to China as early as 2019.

The warning has been sounded by the former President Mohamed Nasheed who is worried about a Chinese takeover of his island nation.

“We can’t pay the $1.5 to 2 billion debt to China,” Nasheed told the Nikkei Asian Review. He goes on to argue that the Indian Ocean country, known mostly as a tourist destination, takes in less than $100 million a month in government revenue.

As of January, obligations to China accounted for “nearly 80%” of the Maldives’ foreign debt, according to Nasheed. Much of the money went into infrastructure, including roads, bridges and airports. 

But these are “vanity projects,” according to Nasheed: “roads going to nowhere, airports that [will sit] empty.” 

All the while, the Maldives’ debts are accruing interest at high rates, Nasheed said.

The story goes to say that the Maldoves must start making payments on this debt by 2019 or 2020. If the Maldives falls behind, China will “ask for equity” from the owners of various islands and infrastructure operators, and Beijing will then “get free hold of that land,” he said.

“Without firing a single shot, China has grabbed more land than the East India Company at the height of the 19th century,” Nasheed said, alleging that the Asian economic powerhouse has taken over “16 islands already” under the Maldives’ current president, Abdulla Yameen. 

“This land grab exercise hollows out our sovereignty,” he argued. 

Once ports have been built on the islands, “these commercial infrastructures can very easily become military assets,” according to Nasheed. 

Such conversions are “very simple,” he said, pointing to a naval base China established in the East African nation of Djibouti last August -- its first military installation abroad.

 Now let’s stop there. 

The rest of the story is pretty bleak but you get the picture.

There will be people of course who would ask what do the Maldives and Samoa have in common? And what does this have to do with us?

Well there are a lot of similarities. 

The biggest denominator is the fact we are a group of islands just like the Maldives and our debt to foreign rulers – including China – is increasing by the day. 

And isn’t it interesting that the Maldives debt has been racked up building infrastructure, including roads, bridges and airports. Doesn’t that sound awfully familiar to what is happening in Samoa today?

All these issues are somehow interconnected. 

Our debt, status of the economy, alienation of customary land, political decisions and fear of a new type of colonialism that is coming through chequebook diplomacy. We see it so often, some times on a daily basis. They are all related since it concerns the future of this nation and our people – including the unborn.

The question is; are we paying attention? Do we care? Whatever your answer, the undeniable truth is this: we have been warned Samoa. 

Have a wonderful week, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 18 February 2018, 12:00AM

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