SAMOA’S DISPUTED LEADER PUSHES CHINA-BACKED PORT FOR $100M
Samoa’s disputed leader is promising to build a port with Chinese help for $100 million, about a third of the cost proposed earlier, said sources with knowledge of the situation, as he bids to stay in power despite losing a parliamentary majority in a tight election, Jonathan Barrett reported for Reuters.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) deemed that the port project at Vaiusu, west of the capital Apia, was not economically viable after estimating it would cost more than $300 million, three sources told Reuters. But the project's chief supporter, long-serving leader Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, told parliament recently a reworked version of the "China-funded project" would cost 250 million talas ($96.9 million) to build.
Tuilaepa, a long-term ally of China, said the new port would create much-needed jobs and boost trade and tourism while overcoming weaknesses at the main port in Apia, which is vulnerable to ocean swell.
Opposition leader Fiame Naomi Mataafa, who was sworn in as prime minister at an ad-hoc ceremony in May, told Reuters she would shelve the port development, calling it excessive for a small country already heavily indebted to China.
China has in recent years become a more assertive competitor for influence in the Pacific with the United States and its allies, which are wary of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects that could support military activity in hostile times in the strategic waters.
Tuilaepa has not disclosed what financing arrangements have been discussed with China and which contractors may be involved. The ADB said in a statement to Reuters that it found in a 2015 study that the Vaiusu plan was "not economically and financially viable." It instead recommended upgrading the existing Apia port, where work has been done with aid from Japan.