“No one asked us” – Samoa PM Mata’afa on geopolitics and the Pacific region


Samoa’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa has criticised the manner in which regional issues had been dealt with recently where new power groupings only asked Pacific Islands like Samoa when issues heat up like the agreement between the China and the Solomon Island Government.

Asked about what was signed with China’s Foreign Minister last weekend, that have counted Samoa as another island state China has won over through cooperation agreements, Mata’afa told the media in Apia that what the officials signed were the formalisation of projects mutually agreed to as is the normal procedure.

The projects (started by the previous administration) include the Arts & Culture Centre and the Samoa–China Friendship Park which have been completed.

Also signed is the Exchange of Letters for the Fingerprint laboratory for Police which is a new addition to the construction of the Police Academy which was approved over a year ago.

But the Prime Minister explained her disappointment with the manner regional issues that required regional consultation have been handled in the recent past.

The Samoan government issued its position on this last year expressing its disappointment.

According to Mata’afa any issue requiring the region’s view should come through the Pacific Islands Forum and the advice is given following consultation for the decision of the Pacific Forum Leaders.

But recent events where high level missions visit the region, quick calls were made for meetings with the ministers of the region and by-passed regional unity.

For such meetings, Mata’afa said that “Samoa’s position was that we attend to observe.”

The geopolitical competition and polarisation has compounded over the Solomon Islands agreement with China and the narrative over the potential impact on the regions’ future security.

China had met with the partners, including Samoa, over the draft circulated ahead of Foreign Minister Wang Yi Pacific visit.

The ‘China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision’ – is a major blueprint for multilateral co-operation between China and Pacific island countries in a wide range of issues that include policing, security, cyber security, trade and climate change.

According to Mata’afa , “We have not made a decision as we did not have enough time to look at it.”

Mata’afa said she prefers a regional position of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Ministers need to meet and look at the proposal closely.

She is pushing for the Pacific Block of 19 nations as the only way for their combined voice to be heard on the international stage.

She observes that the big powers are making individual approaches. “But we think as a region; and if they make individual approaches, it’s important that we have the chance to consult and have a combined voice on the regions position in order to have an impact.”

Mata’afa believes the security concerns on the Solomon Islands must be discussed through the Pacific Islands Forum as there are treaties and guidelines on regional security already in place and there had been a regional security initiative in the Solomon Islands before in RAMSI.

She points out the recent power groupings such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) that Fiji is reported to have joined. There is also Quad with Australia, India, Japan and the United States.

With the issues on the Solomon Islands, the major powers are playing geopolitics and seeking support from Pacific Island nations when they were not consulted in the first place.

“So there are times they choose to talk to us and there are times they go on their own,” said Mata’afa .

She also observes the new push that is “dragging us in just like that” to merge the Pacific and the Indian Ocean as one region in the current geopolitics power play.

“We have been in partnership with these major powers for a long time,” said Mata’afa . “What’s new now that they seem to be seeking support in the Pacific?” she asks.

In Samoa’s 60 years of independence, she has established diplomatic ties with traditional development partners over time.

Mata’afa believes the Pacific countries need to stand together as a region to protect from the current geopolitics and power play.

But she notes that the Pacific is currently divided with the Micronesian countries in the North breaking away since the appointment of the new Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum.

“But like our families, we need to come together again as our survival is premised on our togetherness,” said Mata’afa.

Meanwhile, on Friday last week, the President of the Federated States of Micronesia, David Panuelo wrote to 18 Pacific leaders, including New Zealand, Australia, and the Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum, specifically about the China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision.

He urged the leaders in the region to look at it carefully before making any decisions.

In particular, Panuelo noted that the Vision sought to “fundamentally alter what used to be bilateral relations with China into multilateral issues.”.