China, Samoa and the missed opportunity for transparency
The 16-hour visit by the People’s Republic of China’s State Councillor and Foreign Minister has to be one of the most high profile visits yet this year by a foreign dignitary.
And when His Excellency Wang Yi made his way to the Faleolo International Airport around 1pm on Saturday to fly back to Fiji, he left behind three signed bilateral agreements his officials signed with their Samoan Government counterparts.
The Economic & Technical Cooperation Agreement, the Handover Certificate for the completed Arts and Culture Centre at Malifa and the Samoa–China Friendship Park, as well as the Exchange of Letters for a Fingerprint Laboratory for Police to complement the yet to be constructed Police Academy.
Better days ahead for the Samoa–China bilateral relationship. But did the Foreign Minister fly all the way to Samoa and spend 16-hours on our island paradise just to witness three bilateral agreements, whose signing by officials at the S.T.A. Fale on Saturday could have been facilitated through a Zoom conference?
With all the focus on China’s 10-day tour of eight Pacific nations which kicked off on Thursday and Mr Yi’s newly appointed Australian counterpart Penny Wong, also jetting off to Fiji on Wednesday to meet with regional leaders, you would be forgiven for not thinking that this great geopolitical race for regional dominance has not started.
The visit by China’s Foreign Minister to Samoa was top secret and no information was forthcoming from the Samoa Government or even the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Apia over the last couple of days – until after 5pm on Friday when the Government Press Secretariat dropped an email to advise the media of a photoshoot at the S.T.A. Fale at 12.45pm on Saturday.
What good is a photoshoot for a media fraternity who were yearning for a press conference with Samoa’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and her counterpart from China?
Shouldn’t the media be privy to more details of the bilateral agreements signed or the agenda behind one of China’s most powerful men spending 16 hours on our shores and then jetting back to Fiji?
Sadly, it was wishful thinking and the local media representatives were later advised that a press release on the signed bilateral agreements will be distributed – with no further details on the bilateral discussions.
For a nation that is a couple of days away from celebrating its 60th Independence Anniversary, there are a lot of takeaways from this secret state visit by China’s State Councillor.
Avoid secrecy and strive for transparency to avoid creating a public perception that we were living in a police state like China, where human rights are restricted and leaders are not accountable to the people through a free press.
We are a democracy where forums such as press conferences are held and encouraged to allow the media to scrutinise the public policy of the Government of the day and questions that would matter to the reader or the viewer and the listener are asked.
But it has been tiring and frustrating the last 24-hours, trying to pierce together the crossword puzzle that we think would represent China and America’s geopolitical interests in the region, only to leave a large part of the crossword puzzle unresolved.
Perhaps, one of the million dollar questions is what was the real agenda of the visit by China’s Foreign Minister and why did Mr Yi feel it important to visit individual nations including Samoa, when he will be hosting the China–Pacific Islands Foreign Ministers Summit in Fiji on Monday 30 May when all those nations he visited the last couple of days will also fly in for the conference?
Was Mr Yi’s visit to Samoa an opportunity for one-on-one negotiations with Samoa on plans by China to get Pacific Island nations to sign up to a regional agreement that would also tie up our security and law enforcement as well as fisheries resources as the international media has been reporting in recent days?
It is a pity that these were some of the questions that the media would have wanted to raise with China’s Foreign Minister when he was here.
It is our hope that the Samoa Government and our leaders represent Samoa’s best interest in their deliberations with superpowers like the People’s Republic of China.
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