Samoa to build $100 million port with Chinese help: sources

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Samoa to build $100 million port with Chinese help: sources

A container ship extends at Apia port which has been unloaded at the Matautu port, which is in the Samoan capital of Japan, on July 12, 2019. JORDANS RODRINGS Jonathan Barrett File Photos I have edited this page.

Samoa's disputed leader is proposing to build a port with Chinese help for $100 million, about a third of the costs proposed before said sources with knowledge of the initial plan, as he applies to stay in power despite losing a parliamentary majority in a tight election.

The Asian Development Bank regarded the port project in Apia, east of the capital Vaiusu, as not economically viable after it was estimated that it would cost more than $300 million, sources told Reuters.

But the project's chief supporter, the long serving leader Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, told parliament last month that reworked version of China-funded project would cost 250 million tala 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 in the main port of Apia, which is vulnerable to ocean swells.

According to Opposition leader Fiame Naomi Mataafa, who was sworn in as minister in May at an ad hoc ceremony, she would keep the port development for a small country already heavily indebted to China. In the last few years, China has become a more hostile competitor in the Pacific with the United States and its allies, who are wary of Chinese infrastructure projects that could support military activity in strategic waters.

Tuilaepa has not disclosed what financing arrangements have been discussed with China and which contractors might be implicated. A spokesman for Tuilaepa did not reply to questions.

ADB said in a statement to Reuters that it had found in a 2015 study that the Vaiusu plan is not economically and financially viable.

It instead recommended upgrading the existing port of Apia, where work has been done with assistance from Japan.

The ADB declined to disclose costing data for the Vaiusu option.

Three sources with direct knowledge of the ADB study, including one diplomatic official, told Reuters that the Vaiusu project was projected to cost more than $300 million, raising concerns it could tip Samoa into unsustainable debt if it goes ahead.

One source said Samoa had sought help from China after the ADB declined to support the project.

The China-backed plan has a different wharf location, which reduces the amount of dredging required compared to the ADB plan, thereby lowering costs. However, one source said that it was not clear how the new projected price could be reduced by two-thirds.

The port of Vaiusu would cater for container ships, cruise ships and shipping fleets, and is in the final stages of negotiations with China with work set to begin when coronavirus restrictions on international borders are lifted, according to a January report in Samoa Observer, citing Tuilaepa.

In May, China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular briefing in Beijing that Samoa had asked China to conduct a feasibility study for the port, and that any help would come without political strings. On Wednesday, China's foreign ministry did not answer to additional questions immediately.

Samoa is the largest creditor in China, a country of 200,000 people, which accounts for about 40%, or some $160 million, of its external debts.

Samoa has been in a political impasse since its April election.

While a series of judicial rulings undermine the claim of Fiame to become Prime Minister, Tuilaepa retains the support of the head of state who suspended parliament hearings and delayed plans to announce a new government. The United Nations has urged Samoa's leaders to resolve the crisis through dialogue.

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