Talofa lava and welcome to “China ready” Samoa

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Was it a coincidence? That on the eve of the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Pacific Island Forum Countries – including New Zealand and Australia –in Apia and yet the only thing on the lips of people here is “China Ready”? 

Did they not know that some of our traditional donor partners, who are in Apia today, have not been so subtle with their criticisms of China’s growing aid influence in the Pacific? 

And as if it’s meant to be a sign, it’s impossible for Foreign Ministers of the Pacific Island Forum countries who are attending a pre-Forum meeting at Taumeasina Island Resort today to ignore China. 

Not at least when people in the host country cannot get “China ready” away from their minds?

But then how can they do that when there appears to be method to thy madness? 

Given China’s unquestionable rise in prominence and power in this part of the world, there is simply no escaping the fact that China will continue to be a major player in the Pacific – regardless of whether certain countries agree or not.

The truth is that without China, many of the economies of certain Pacific nations would have sunk already. Ask Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his Government.

Which means the question for the leaders of the Pacific who are in Apia today is how long will some of them continue to deny the critical importance of China to the region? Which is why people cannot get their heads away from “China ready”.

For the uninitiated, the phrase “China ready” has been the talk of the past few days in Samoa where the country has been preparing to be… well … “China ready.” Whoever coined the phrase is a genius. It’s easy and catchy and so who wouldn’t be hooked?

You see since the tourism industry in Samoa has been struggling with the low numbers for the past several years, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and his Government can only think of one solution. 

And what is that? China. 

Now enter Dr. Marcus Lee Thong Yee. From what we’ve been told, he is the man with all the answers to our problems. The Samoa Tourism Authority certainly cannot stop gloating about him and what he is promising. In their monthly newsletter, he is described as “an internationally renowned author and speaker who specialises in maximising opportunities in doing business with China.” The Chairman for the Association of S.M.E. Business owners (I.C.I.F.), China, they say he is a former investment Banker on Wall Street, New York, a Board Director of the Welcome China (Promotion), China Ready (Training), and the China Outbound Tourism Research Academy (C.O.T.A).

But that’s not all. We are further told that Dr. Lee Thong Yee is an Economic Advisor to Chinese Municipal Governments and is a speaker on the O.B.O.R. (One Belt One Road Summit), A.P.E.C. (Asia-Pacific Economic Council), A.S.E.M. (Asia Europe Meeting), Forbes and so forth. 

Well that’s some impressive credentials. 

No wonder people can’t stop saying “China Ready.”

But here’s the real hook.  See, the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute estimates that in 2017 Chinese tourists made 145 million cross-border trips and spent US$261 billion in a year. 

Some 130 million Chinese tourists travel abroad every year. These are staggering numbers.

So who wouldn’t want to be “China ready”, especially if you are a poor struggling Pacific economy floating in a climate change ravaged Pacific Ocean?

Imagine a country like Samoa getting just a drop of those 130million tourists?

Give us 50,000 a year? Imagine how things will change here? Imagine the prospects for the tourism industry, which is the mainstay of Samoa’s economy by the way, and how that would begin to improve?

If there is anything we know, tourism numbers lead to business growth and more job opportunities. 

Job opportunities provide villages, churches and families, ordinary Pacific islanders with revenue they sorely need. They need this for the very basics of life, shelter, food and clothing.

In Samoa and the Pacific today, poverty of opportunities remains one of the biggest challenges. There is growing hardship and suffering because people don’t have money. Poverty is not a myth; it is a reality for many people.

We talk about climate change, oceans and all the fancy issues that attract funding which is fine. But let’s try and translate all this talk and fancy high level meetings to some tangible outcomes where Sione and Simi’s lives are transformed for the better. How do we bring the outcomes of what is being discussed behind those closed air conditioned rooms to bear fruit in the lives of ordinary Pacific Islanders? And how many more meetings do we need to have to make a difference? 

Let the leaders gathering in Apia today be reminded that this is 2018. They have been meeting since ancient times. What is new to discuss in a meeting to plan another meeting for the sake of next month’s meeting? 

Getting back to China, there is no doubt at all that China is Samoa’s best friend today. And many Pacific islands states can say the same. But what are the alternatives? 

Now does China’s rising influence come at a cost? Of course there is a huge cost. There is no such thing as a free lunch folks. 

With that in mind, we want to welcome all the officials who are in Apia for the pre-Forum discussions today. You have a lot to talk about.

So talofa lava and welcome to Samoa that is “China already”? Enjoy your time here and God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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