15 Jan 2018

Chinese aid comments insulting, says Tuilaepa

3:36 pm on 15 January 2018

The Samoan leader Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi says an Australian minister's comments over Chinese aid are insulting to Pacific island leaders.

Downtown Apia, Samoa

Downtown Apia, Samoa Photo: RNZI/Sally Round

Australia's Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has said China lends funds to countries in the Pacific on unfavourable terms and constructs "useless buildings" and "roads to nowhere" in the region.

Tuilaepa said such comments could damage Australia's relationships with countries in the region.

In an interview with the Samoan government's Savali newspaper the prime minister said China-funded buildings had provided modern facilities which raised work quality and productivity.

He said China was responding to Samoa's requests for projects and those that had been built or funded by China were very well utilised.

"I think that instead of criticizing this assistance from China, Australia's Minister of Development should be thankful to the Chinese that they have complemented the assistance by Australia and New Zealand to the Pacific Island countries. Australia and New Zealand have not been able to finance all of our needs," said Tuilaepa.

He said the assistance was based on Samoa accepting the "One China Policy".

The prime minister said efforts were underway to get China to increase the grant element of its concessionary loans as Pacific islands are at the forefront in the fight against climate change.

He said 27 percent of China's loans were in the form of a grant compared to 35 percent provided by institutions like the World Bank and the ADB.

Tuilaepa denied China was seeking to control Samoa's assets for strategic reasons.

"China has never made such requests. That would be contrary to the understanding between Samoa and China that they respect our sovereignty and our independence for our own decision making."

Samoa's PM Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi

Samoa's PM Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi Photo: RNZ / Sela Jane Aholelei

He said Samoa had requested help from China with a new port development, known as "Port of the Future" at Vaiusu Bay and a final decision was yet to be made.

He also refuted suggestions Samoa had difficulty paying back its loans to China, saying it watched its borrowings carefully.

"Since all our debts are concessionary, we do not have such problems. We have very strong payment capabilities every year. Very often for instance in many projects that we do, the construction period is up to two years and then we begin to earn revenue to help start paying the loans well, well, well before the grace period ends and the repayment of the loan and interests begin."

Tuilaepa was confident differences could be patched up, however, saying the Pacific Islands Forum was an important platform for this.

He said time heals such differences and he now counted Fiji's prime minister Frank Bainimarama as one of his best friends after years of testy relations.

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