Am Samoa Gov concerns over China’s increasing presence in the pacific region


As Pacific nations are seeking or signing bilateral agreements with China, American Samoa Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga informs the White House that this is the time for the U.S. to use American Samoa to increase America’s presence in the Pacific region. 

Samoa News reports the governor’s comment on China was included in his June 15th letter to U.S President Joe Biden, opposing the federal government’s proposed expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM), which Lemanu says will have negative impact on the territory’s tuna industry.

In his letter to Biden, the governor points out, what he describes as “Strategic Interests”, when it comes to American Samoa, that fishing prohibitions not only weaken U.S. fisheries but also increase seafood imports and jeopardize U.S. food and national security. 

He contends that the proposed PRIMNM expansion would continue to displace the U.S. fishing fleets to international waters where they must fish alongside and compete with foreign fishing fleets. 

The governor claims that fishing vessels from China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan are regularly observed fishing the border of the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around American  Samoa, Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific Remote Islands. 

Furthermore, China continues to build up its longline fleet in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean which has increased from around 100 vessels in 2007 to over 520 now – catching approximately 50,000 metric tons of tuna annually). 

Additionally, China’s fleet also includes 73 purse seine vessels. In comparison, there are 14 U.S.-flagged longline vessels and 13 U.S.- flagged purse seine vessels based in American Samoa, the governor said. 

“China is making a concentrated effort to integrate its economic, diplomatic, military and technological might to expand its influence throughout the Pacific,” the governor wrote to Biden. 

“This approach by China appears to be very effective, as evidenced by the recent bilateral agreements made with our Pacific neighbors, including the Independent State of Samoa,” he said. 

Lemanu noted that the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy highlights concern over China’s influence in the Pacific region and its vulnerable island countries. 

And if China succeeds in using the bilateral agreements with the island nations in the Pacific region, “their heavily subsidized fishing fleets will harvest the fish supply from within the fishing zones that will be denied to the U.S. fishing fleet”, he claims. 

According to the governor, the U.S “is losing influence in the international fisheries management organizations”, such as the Western and Central Pacific Commission, due to weakened U.S. fisheries. 

He said these impacts are exacerbated by the loss of U.S. fishing grounds as a result of monument designations. Deterrence of foreign fishing fleet encroachment in the U.S. EEZ is compromised when U.S. commercial fishing vessels are removed from the 25 percent of the entire U.S. EEZ that is now under monument protection. 

The governor noted that reducing fishing grounds by expanding the marine monuments will aid this Chinese expansion by forcing U.S. fishing vessels out of U.S. waters. 

“This is the time for the United States to use American Samoa to increase the U.S. presence in the Pacific region to provide security and economic development to the island nations presently seeking or signing bilateral agreements with China,” he declared. 

The Associated Press reported late last month about China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, who was on a stop of an 8-nation Pacific region tour, seeking to sign a multilateral deal with 10 South Pacific nations covering everything from from security to fisheries. He couldn’t find consensus on that deal but had notched up smaller wins by signing bilateral agreements with many of the countries he visited. 

And this has raised concerns in Washington D.C, as well as leaders of Australia and New Zealand – which countered China’s move by sending their top diplomats to the same Pacific nations.

The Associated Press early this month reports Samoa Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Matafa telling reporters in Apia that she wanted to make clear that while Samoa had signed some bilateral agreements with China, it hadn’t favored inking the big multilateral deal — at least not right away. 

She said Samoa and the other nations needed to talk through the issues first. “Our position was that you cannot have regional agreement when the region hasn’t met to discuss it,” she said.

The increasing presence of China in the Pacific region was one of the three key – challenges that Lemanu shared with the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources during the hybrid oversight hearing last month. (See Samoa News edition May 20th for details).

Lemanu’s testimony to the U.S House committee was made prior to the Chinese foreign minister’s tour of the Pacific region, as local residents are keen on what the U.S will do now and what role American Samoa will play going forward with China’s agreements with the affected Pacific nations.