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China's geopolitical play in debt-ridden Samoa

Video Credit: Reuters Studio - Duration: 02:16s - Published
China's geopolitical play in debt-ridden Samoa

China's geopolitical play in debt-ridden Samoa

Samoa's courting investors on both sides of the China-U.S.divide.

That's unsettling Washington and its allies, who are weary of Beijing's growing influence on island nations in the South Pacific.

Several of them are already largely in debt to China.

Jayson Albano reports.

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For a country in desperate need of an infrastructure upgrade, and no quick means to pay it back, Samoa's got a lot of interested investors.

Japan's spent millions in expanding the island nation's only commercial port,and a second port is also in the works... but it's China that wants to front the cash.

That's drawn warnings from the U.S. and its allies in the region that the port could be militarised by Beijing.

But even though the U.S. and its allies have dominated influence in the region since World War II, Samoa might not be so quick to turn away Washington's opponents.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) SAMOAN PRIME MINISTER TUILAEPA SAILELE MALIELEGAOI: "We have never spoken about any military thing; all we are interested in is our own wharf for ships that bring the goods in that we need and fishing vessels that might come in to take our fish overseas." And it wouldn't be China's first contribution to the country.

Ahead of the Olympic-style Pacific games in July, Beijing paid for significant upgrades to Samoa's airport and its aquatic centre.

But its generosity drew mixed reactions.

A sponsor of the Pacific Games said China's involvement in Samoa was peaceful: (SOUNDBITE) (English) FOUNDER OF SHANGHAI-BASED LEGEND SPORTSWEAR DR TAN KEK LOOI: "China is not the country that goes out conquering people.

China goes in peace.

No other country that I know go out in peace for commercial reason.

China is." While others were not so easily convinced: (SOUNDBITE) (English) LOCAL VENDOR MIRIAMA SEETI SAYING: "There's a lot of people, they're concerned about it.

Because they got a lot of something, they supply anything here.

They help.

They send money [to] Samoa, they help everything here - I don't know why - why do they help?

But you never know." Over the past decade, China has become the largest financier in the Pacific.

Western allies have warned island nations that Beijing-funded projects needed to make financial sense.

That's because China's investments can be underused and costly to maintain, sending countries further into debt.

And in some people's eyes, further into the hands of their biggest creditors.

One opposition lawmaker said they could risk losing their independence altogether.

But for a country like Samoa, paying China back might have to be a problem for another day.




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