Lenders not to blame for ballooning Pacific debts - Samoa PM
SYDNEY, Aug 30 (Reuters) - Pacific Island states only have
themselves to blame if they fall into debt problems and
criticism of China's surging lending in the region by rival
powers has been patronising, Samoa's Prime Minister said on
China has spent $1.3 billion on concessionary loans and
gifts since 2011 to become the Pacific's second-largest donor
after Australia, stoking concern in the West that several tiny
nations could end up overburdened and in debt to China.
Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, speaking
during a visit to the Lowy Institute, a foreign policy
think-tank in Sydney, said China was not to blame.
"We should not accuse the lender itself," Malielegaoi told
Reuters in an interview when asked about the region's growing
debt to China.
"It's up to the country itself to ensure that it sets down
guidelines to borrow," he said. "The only reason why countries
have not been able to pay is because they did not have proper
China has said it is supporting development in a region
where it is needed.
But the debt issue has become a prominent concern since
China took possession of a Sri Lankan port as Colombo struggled
to pay its dues.
Australia in particular, which has long viewed the Pacific
as its backyard, has been critical of some Chinese aid projects,
and a former foreign minister has warned that the lending could
undermine the long-term sovereignty of recipients.
Malielegaoi said in a speech to the institute that
unidentified "traditional" partners had "left the neighbourhood,
even if momentarily" and returned to find the region more hotly
"Our partners have fallen short of acknowledging the
integrity of Pacific leadership and the responsibility they
carry for every decision made in order to garner support for
sustainable development in their nations," he said.
"Some might say there is a patronising nuance in believing
Pacific nations did not know what they were doing."
A Reuters' analysis of the financial books of 11 South
Pacific island nations shows China is the region's biggest
bilateral lender, with loans jumping from almost zero to more
than $1.3 billion outstanding in a decade.
Samoa is one of eight island nations in the South Pacific,
carrying significant debt to China, but Malielegaoi said the
terms were "soft" and repayments "never any problem".
He also criticised a bid, abruptly abandoned after pressure
from China, by his Tongan counterpart, 'Akilisi Pōhiva, to make
a coordinated request for China to forgive loans across the
"It is never a good policy for a small country to keep on
asking for loans and asking again for forgiveness, it destroys
the country's integrity and relationship with friendly
partners," he said.
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook
Editing by Robert Birsel)
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