Speaking as one voice amid geopolitical competition
The eerie silence on Wednesday morning quickly disappeared, when a boom echoed from Mulinu’u before 8am, signalling the start of a 21-gun salute to mark Samoa’s 60th Independence Anniversary celebration.
The sequential thunderous sound from the 60-year-old New Zealand gifted ceremonial saluting guns rolled over the mangrove-tinged Vaiusu Bay, an area initially earmarked for a multimillion tala port project by the previous Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) Administration.
The decision to abandon the China-funded US$100 million Vaiusu Bay Port Project was one of the first decisions Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and her Government made, following their installation by Samoa’s Court of Appeal in late July 2021 on the back of a four-month constitutional crisis.
Fiame’s historical flag-raising ceremony on Wednesday morning – attended by selected Samoan leaders and Government officials as well as members of the diplomatic corps – comes four days after China’s Minister for Foreign Affairs concluded a 16-hour visit to Samoa last Saturday as part of his 10-day tour of Pacific nations that recognise the One China Policy.
In retrospect it would have been courteous to have the Foreign Minister Wan Yi at the ceremony on Wednesday, after all China has been a key financial backer of major public infrastructure in Samoa in recent years. These include the Tupua Tamasese Meaole National Hospital, the Faleolo International Airport terminal, the Arts and Culture Centre at Malifa, and the Court precinct at Mulinu’u amongst others.
Not forgetting the loans that Samoa has received from China, which according to the Samoa Bureau of Statistics (S.B.S.) December 2021 quarter stood at $419.3 million tala, and at that time had increased by $28.9 million.
This is why the call by the Samoan political scientist, Dr. Christina La’ala’ai-Tauasa for Samoa to be “strategic” in its negotiations with key development partners such as China makes sense.
The University of Canterbury academic believes that being strategic will ensure the best interest of Samoa is served.
“This is evident in the bilaterals that have been signed, and that is to be strategic – in fact it is the only position Samoa and our neighbouring countries [in the Pacific] should be taking,” she said.
“Agree and sign on what benefits Samoa and what serves the best interest of the country technically and economically, avoid contractual agreements that will cause disunity and fragmented communities.
Dr. Christina also called for Samoa to avoid agreements that impact negatively on our democratic and cultural values and resources, including security, press freedom, customary lands and fisheries.
These values lie at the heart of Samoa’s journey as a democratic nation and to forfeit them in order to seal bilateral or multilateral agreements with a foreign can only spell doom for the country.
But amid our 60th Independence Anniversary celebration, we do find comfort and hope in the response that Prime Minister Fiame gave on Monday night, when she was asked by the local media for her views on a proposed regional agreement that was put forward by Beijing.
“From observation the powerful nations want our views as the region yet approaches the islands individually preventing the opportunity for the Pacific to consult together,” Fiame said Monday night.
“We have very small opportunities where we have the advantage and our advantage is when our views are combined together to represent the Pacific.”
The Prime Minister is correct. For all our vulnerabilities as a small Pacific Islands state, our interest is better served working together with other sovereign Island nations and speaking as one voice.
Having just turned 60 as a nation, there are a multitude of challenges in the face of increasing geopolitical competition in the region, so it is good to see the Prime Minister rising to the occasion in what are dire times not only for Samoa but the region as a whole.
Friends to all and enemies to none is the path that Samoa has become synonymous with in terms of international relations and our place in the global community over the years.
And our leaders should continue to be vigilant and ensure our cultural and democratic values as well as identity as a people are not traded for short-term gain at the expense of Samoa’s next generation.
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