The 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 deal, the island nation will receive a 20-year concessional loan from the state-linked Exim Bank of China. The government of the Solomon Islands called it “a historical 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 this as being a possibility.
The growing financial and security ties between the Solomon Islands and China have spurred concern from the US and its allies. Australia, which had agreed to build six telecom towers in the country, has also expressed concern.
In 2018, the Solomon Islands awarded a contract to Huawei to build an underwater telecom cable network. The Australian government intervened to jointly fund the cable.
Since then, the Solomon Islands has 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’ which bans American 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 in their 5G networks.
According to the Solomon Islands, around half (48%) of the new Huawei towers will be built prior to the country hosting the Pacific Island Games in November 2023.
“This will help people in rural areas to enjoy the Games, even if they don’t come to [the capital] Honiara,” said McKinnie Dentana, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance.
Last year, the Solomon Islands saw widespread rioting against Sogavare. This month, Sogavare has proposed changing the constitution to delay an election – due to be held before the Pacific Island Games – until after.
Sogavare says the need for an election delay is due to the country not having the capacity to hold both events. Opposition leader Matthew Wale has called it a “lame excuse”.
Earlier this year, the Solomon Islands and China signed a controversial security deal as part of their deepening partnership. A leaked draft of the security deal with Beijing allows for Chinese security forces to be called in to quell unrest.
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