During China's push in the Pacific, Samoa makes a deal with China.
Few details have been released, other than promises to help with infrastructure, and the West is worried that China wants to increase its security presence in the region.
Samoa signed a bilateral agreement with China on Saturday, promising "greater collaboration." This comes as Beijing's foreign minister continues a tour of the Pacific that has worried western allies.
The details of the deal are not clear, and it comes in the middle of a Chinese delegation's trip to eight countries. However, a draft agreement sent to several Pacific countries before it was leaked showed plans to increase security and economic ties.
Because of the mission, western leaders have been telling their regional counterparts to say no to any attempt by China to increase its security reach across the region.
In a press release on Saturday, the Samoan government confirmed that Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, and Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, the Samoan prime minister, had met and talked about "climate change, the pandemic, and peace and security."
The local press was invited to watch a deal being signed, but no questions were asked. Before, international journalists who wanted to cover Wang's tour stop in Solomon Islands for international outlets said they were not allowed to attend press events, and those who were allowed to attend were not allowed to ask many questions.
In a press release from Samoa, it was said that China would continue to help develop infrastructure in different parts of Samoa, and that there would be a new framework for future projects that would be "determined and agreed upon by both sides."
The release said, "Samoa and the People's Republic of China will keep trying to work together more to meet their shared goals and commitments."
Anthony Albanese, the new prime minister of Australia, didn't talk about the agreement between Samoa and China, but he did say on Saturday that the previous federal government "dropped the ball" in its dealings with Pacific nations.
"The truth is that the former government ignored a request from the department of foreign affairs and trade, which was backed by the former foreign minister at the time, Marise Payne, for more help in the Pacific," he said.
"We're going to be proactive in the area, and we want to get involved. Australia has been the partner of choice in the Pacific for a long time, and that won't change.
This week, the Chinese group has already been to Solomon Islands and Kiribati. The delegation arrived in Samoa on Friday night and was supposed to leave for Fiji on Saturday afternoon. They were also supposed to stop in Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and East Timor.
Australia's new foreign minister, Penny Wong, was in Fiji on Friday to try to win over island states after Solomon Islands surprised Australia last month by signing a broad security pact with China. The draft agreement and a five-year plan that were sent to several Pacific nations would give China a bigger security presence in a region that the US and its allies see as important to their interests.
"We have talked about our worries about the security agreement in public," Wong told reporters in Suva, the capital.
"Like other islands in the Pacific, we think there will be consequences. We think it's important for the people in the area to decide how safe it is. In the past, this has always been the case. And we think that's a good thing."
After the meeting, the prime minister of Fiji praised Wong and took a shot at Australia's former prime minister, Scott Morrison.
Frank Bainimarama said on Saturday that he and Wong had a "wonderful meeting" after she traveled to the country by herself for the first time since being sworn in as prime minister.
Later, Bainimarama wrote on Twitter, "Fiji is not anyone's backyard; we are part of a Pacific family."
"And the climate change is our biggest worry, not geopolitics."
He said that the meeting would strengthen the Vuvale Partnership between Fiji and Australia. Vuvale is a Fijian word that means "friendship."
The post had a picture of Bainimarama smiling and shaking hands with Wong.
Bainimarama seemed to be taking a thinly veiled shot at Morrison, who called the Pacific region "Australia's backyard" in 2019.
At his first stop in Honiara on Thursday, Wang slammed "slanders and attacks" against the security agreement that China and Solomon Islands have already signed.
In a strong letter to other Pacific leaders, the president of the Federated States of Micronesia, David Panuelo, warned that the agreement, which at first glance seemed "attractive," would actually let China "gain access to and control of our region."
During the four-hour stop, Wang met with Kiribati's president, Taneti Maamau, on Friday. They talked about fisheries, education, and health. A Kiribati official who was not allowed to talk to the media said that Kiribati was more interested in trade and tourism opportunities with China than in a security deal.
The official said that controversial plans to let fishermen back into a protected marine zone and to improve an airstrip on Canton island were not part of the agreements that were going to be signed.
Chinese state media praised the trip to Kiribati as an important step in the two countries' relationship, which had been on hold since Kiribati switched recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in September 2019. China Daily quotes Wang as saying that China is "not only Kiribati's friend, but also the most reliable friend of all developing countries."
It said that both sides had agreed to work together more on Covid-19 and that a medical team from China had come with the delegation to help with the response to the pandemic and give health services to the people of Kiribati. The state-backed outlet also said that the two countries had agreed to expand Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) development and to "give full play to Kiribati's advantages in resources" and create new maritime cooperations "on the basis of protecting the environment."
The readout didn't say anything about security, but it slammed the US for "slowing down China's development."