China has signed a deal with Samoa to strengthen diplomatic relations in a move that Australia “should be very concerned about”, a local journalist has warned.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Samoa’s Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa on Saturday where an “Economic & Technical Cooperation Agreement” was signed. Details of the deal are so far unclear.
China is building on a security pact it recently signed with Solomon Islands, which has alarmed Australia and the US as they fear a stepped-up military presence by Beijing.
Alexander Rheeney, editor with the Samoa Observer, said local media were not given details about the meeting and were denied interviews with officials from both sides.
He agreed the lack of information provided to the media sparked a sense of disappointment and suspicion.
“There was a lot of disappointment amongst the media fraternity here," Mr Rheeney told Patricia Karvelas in an interview on the ABC's RN Breakfast.
"We did go up to the venue of the bilateral discussions on Saturday hoping to get an interview with both Prime Minister Fiame and the Chinese foreign minister without success.”
He said he wanted to ask questions on some widely-shared concerns about China’s agenda, but wasn't given the opportunity.
“Australia should be very concerned with this latest development,” he said.
'Secret deal' emerges from Pacific islands meeting
It comes as Mr Wang holds a virtual summit in Fiji on Monday with leaders and top officials from 10 Pacific Island states – which include Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Niue and Vanuatu – where details of a secret deal have been leaked.
The deal, obtained by Agence France-Presse (AFP), would see China train local police, become involved in cybersecurity, expand political ties, conduct sensitive marine mapping and gain greater access to natural resources on land and in the water.
As an enticement, Beijing is offering millions of dollars in financial assistance, the prospect of a China-Pacific Islands free trade agreement, and access to China's vast market of 1.4 billion people.
But the plan has prompted opposition from at least one of the invited nations, Federated States of Micronesia, according to a letter leaked last week.
Leaked letter warned of 'details' in China documents
President of Micronesia David W. Panuelo sent a letter of warning to all the attendees — along with several others including Australia and New Zealand — about carefully constructed words and hidden details in the documents being presented to the Pacific nations.
Mr Panuelo wrote that his cabinet advised Micronesia should “begin resisting” the initiatives in China’s documents, and that “we should be cautious to let China get their feet too far into our Nation”.
In the letter, dated May 20, Mr Panuelo also said:
“The language of these documents is a sign that China has faithfully done its homework, as the choice of words arc, on their face and at first glance, attractive to many of us—perhaps all of us.
“They speak of democracy and equity and freedom and justice, and compare and contrast these ideas with concepts that we, as Pacific Islands, would want to align ourselves with, such as sustainable development, tackling climate change, and economic growth.
“Where the problems arise are in the details, and the details suggest that China is seeking to do exactly what I warned of in my September, 2020 address at the United Nations General Assembly: to acquire access and control of our region, with the result being the fracturing of regional peace, security, and stability, all while in the name of accomplishing precisely that task.”
Pacts with China worrying Western allies
The United States, Australia, Japan and New Zealand have expressed concern at a security pact signed by Solomon Islands with China last month, saying it had regional consequences and could lead to a Chinese military presence close to Australia.
Freshly sworn-in Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has made the Pacific islands an early foreign policy priority to counter Beijing's push, announcing a defence training school, support for maritime security, a boost in aid and re-engaging the region on climate change.
In Honiara last week, Mr Wang condemned interference in the deal and said the Solomon Islands' relationship with China was a model for other Pacific island nations.
with Reuters and AFP
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