Solomon Islands has secured a $66 million loan from China to build 161 mobile towers built and supplied by Huawei.
Under the terms of the agreement, the island nation will receive a soft 20-year loan from the state-linked Exim Bank of China. The Solomon Islands government called it “a historic financial partnership” between the two countries.
Western officials believe Beijing could use the security pact to build a military base in the Solomon Islands. However, the country’s prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, has repeatedly denied that this was a possibility.
Growing financial and security ties between the Solomon Islands and China have raised concerns for the US and its allies. Australia, which had agreed to build six telecommunications towers in the country, has also expressed concern.
In 2018, the Solomon Islands awarded a contract to Huawei to build an underwater telecommunications cable network. The Australian government stepped in to co-finance the cable.
The Solomon Islands have since switched diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China. Huawei, meanwhile, has become somewhat of an international pariah due to security concerns.
In 2019, the US added Huawei to its “Entity List” that prohibits US companies from sharing technology with it without explicit permission. In 2020, the British government issued an order to block the country’s telecom providers from installing Huawei equipment on their 5G networks.
According to Solomon Islands, around half (48%) of the new Huawei towers will be built before the country hosts the Pacific Islands Games in November 2023.
“This will help people in rural areas to enjoy the Games, even if they don’t come [the capital] Honiara,” said McKinnie Dentana, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Finance.
Last year, the Solomon Islands saw widespread unrest against Sogavare. This month, Sogavare proposed changing the constitution to delay an election, which must be held before the Pacific Islands Games, until after.
Sogavare says the need for an electoral delay is due to the fact that the country does not have the capacity to hold both events. Opposition Leader Matthew Wale called it a “lame excuse”.
Earlier this year, the Solomon Islands and China signed a controversial security agreement as part of their deepening cooperation. A leaked draft of the security deal with Beijing allows Chinese security forces to be called in to quell unrest.
(Photo by Gilly Tanabose on Unsplash)
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