F.A.S.T. Govt. would review China policy

Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio says he is concerned about rising Chinese investment in Samoa and his new party colleagues will review the country's immigration policies if they form Government, its leaders confirmed on Saturday. 

Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio on Wednesday announced he was joining an alliance with the Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) political party is concerned about the influx of Chinese business in the country. 

Some of his concerns about immigration and policy have been mirrored by his new party colleagues. 

While addressing hundreds of his constituents on Wednesday morning about why he had made his decision, one of the issues he said he had highlighted with leaders of both parties earlier was Samoa's foreign policy on China. 

Tuala made his concerns clear during his earlier meetings with the caretaker Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi and F.A.S.T. leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa. 

“I wanted to understand what both parties' foreign policies on China [were] because if I am unclear about it [then] so is the whole country,” he said. 

“We are seeing some of the new changes happening in our country concerning Chinese and I do not oppose them but I want to understand Samoa’s relationship and policy on China. 

“I believe I am in the dark about it and so is the country.”

Tuala further told his constituency that they should be "concerned" about what "would follow" after the increasing number of Chinese-owned businesses around the country. 

 "As you are all aware, we have so many Chinese in the country,” he said. 

"What we don't know and are yet to realise is that there is something big that is behind this. 

"This was the issue I raised during my meeting with Fiame, and I asked her for her opinion on the matter. 

"This is because I feel for our people. The Chinese are taking over our businesses and it's hard for our local businesses to compete with the Chinese. 

"And the money they [Chinese] are earning goes back to their homeland."

When her opinion was sought, F.A.S.T’s. leader Fiame Naomi Mataafa said on Saturday: "Well our position is, we have diplomatic relations with the Government of China, we don't have any change on that, but I think the other issue [we need to look at] is immigration policies.

"That is something we would like to review to address some of the issues with business entries and also the safeguarding of businesses for the people of Samoa 

"Part of the reasons for that problem is because there are policies in place, but are not being enforced, 

"But those are some critical issues that we should look at, and need to be reviewed."

Canceling the construction of the Chinese-funded $250 million Vaiusu Wharf project was a key part of the party’s policy manifesto. 

An emphasis was made on the redevelopment’s potential environmental impact on Vaiusu Bay and those who rely upon it for subsistence.

But Leatinuu Wayne So'oialo, the M.P.-elect for Faleata No. 2 had campaigned hard against the project which he said was not in proportion to the size of Samoa’s import and export industry.

Leatinuu said that the only explanation for the wharf project’s size was that it would be a military base. These claims were strenuously denied by the Chinese Embassy. 

Laauli Leuatea Polataivao, the F.A.S.T. party’s founder and Deputy Leader, in an interview late last year, called for a greater balancing of Samoa’s foreign relations.

There has recently been an influx of foreign aid and soft power in the Pacific as Washington and its allies and Beijing compete for influence in the region. Samoa has grown closer to the Chinese Government during this period while still receiving aid from multilateral and traditional bilateral donors such as Australia and New Zealand.

Samoa is the second-most indebted in the Pacific to China, behind only Tonga; Chinese loans account for about 40 per cent of the national debt.

Samoa's aid doubled to reach USD$190 million in 2018 alone according to figures by the Australian Lowy Institute think tank.

Earlier this week Australia's federal Government canceled an infrastructure project funded as part of China’s Belt and Road initiative, prompting anger from Beijing.

China has imposed several tariffs on Australian goods such as lobster and wine in response to its increasing criticism of China on issues such as the encroachment upon Hong Kong. 

New Zealand by contrast has increasingly taken a neutral stance on Chinese policy, suggesting that it prioritises its economic prosperity before any foreign policy maneuvers. That has led to its Government being criticised by traditional allies such as Australia and the United Kingdom, an intelligence-sharing network known as the "five eyes".

(Tuala was also an advocate for several issues including an overhaul of the Government’s judicial reforms and other legislative reforms.)

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