Chinese President Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is getting thrashed again. The Pacific Island country of Samoa has just kicked China out of a $100 million port project. Samoa’s new Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa has confirmed that she will cancel a China-backed port project. With this, Samoa’s new Prime Minister, who is believed to be a China hawk, has indicated that she will rid the island country of predatory Chinese investments.
The cancellation of the $100 million port deal by Samoa’s new Prime Minister is on expected lines. The port project was practically a disaster, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) had also deemed a similar project as unviable. It was clear that China was getting involved in the port project as a part of its debt-trap strategy.
In May, Mataafa had already called the China-backed port project too big for the tiny Pacific island, which is still heavily in debt to China. However, Samoa had then got embroiled in a political crisis as the former Prime Minister of the country, Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi didn’t cede the election to the winner – Fiame Naomi Mataafa for three long months.
In fact, Mataafa’s FAST party was locked out of the Parliament building and she took oath as Samoa’s new Prime Minister during an extraordinary swearing in ceremony inside a makeshift tent on the lawn in front of the Parliament building in Apia, with heavy police presence.
Malielegaoi, a pro-China megalomaniac leader, remained at the helm of affairs in Somalia for 23 long years. During this time period, Malielegaoi literally sold away his country to China. Presently, China is Samoa’s single largest creditor, accounting for about 40 per cent of the country’s external debt, or $200 million. Finally, the Supreme Court of Samoa ended the political crisis in the country and confirmed Fiame Naomi Mataafa as the Prime Minister.
Anyhow, Mataafa’s accession to power in Samoa has put China in a very tight spot. She has started off by canceling a $100 million port project deal. Samoa’s new Prime Minister has also made it clear that she would approve only those investments that had clear benefits for her country, while expressing doubts about how Samoa could become a pawn in a geopolitical tussle between the two superpowers.
Mataafa’s message is loud and clear- she understands how the US and China are locked in an unprecedented power struggle in the Pacific Islands region. She also knows that Chinese investments and loans in the region carry oblique motives of piling excessive debt burden on the countries located in this region.
China is investing heavily in unviable port projects in the Pacific Islands, with the purpose of ultimately pushing Chinese military assets into the region, and Mataafa doesn’t want Samoa to suffer on account of China’s growing ambitions.
Therefore, Samoa’s new Prime Minister will kick out investments that are not in her country’s larger interest. So, even other Chinese project proposals like the building of a Samoan Police Academy and Training facility could be put on hold. Mataafa’s accession as the Prime Minister of Samoa is thus very bad news for China, and Mataafa has started off by giving a huge blow to the Communist nation.