Solomon Islands province rejects Chinese mobile towers
China’s Huawei is building dozens of communications towers across the Solomon Islands, boosting mobile internet access ahead of next year’s Pacific Games, but the country’s most populous province continues to reject the Chinese-funded infrastructure.
Malaita province banned Chinese projects after the Solomon Islands government switched its diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taiwan in 2019. Malaita Premier Daniel Suidani’s anti-China Auki Communiqué was signed by every member of the provincial assembly, although at least one has since dissented.
“Accessing communication is a basic need in every province in Solomon Islands, especially for education purposes, but I cannot say much as the provincial assembly is just following the Auki Communiqué which states that the province will not accept any Chinese funded projects,” Malaita Deputy Premier Glen Waneta told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, on Monday.
In August, the Solomon Islands government agreed for Huawei and contractor China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd. to construct 161 mobile broadband towers across the Pacific country, including 27 towers for Malaita. The project is paid for with a 20-year U.S. $65 million loan from Exim Bank of China at 1 percent interest.
The Solomons government expects nearly half of the towers to be erected before the Pacific Games in November next year, which would enable more people, especially in rural areas, to watch the games.
Existing mobile phone networks in the Solomon Islands cover at least 94 percent of the population but mobile broadband coverage is only 20 percent, according to 2018 figures from Telecommunications Commission Solomon Islands.
Moses Virivolomo, permanent secretary of the Solomon Islands Ministry of Communication and Aviation, said Malaita’s provincial government had rejected the most recent request to accept the tower rollout, Solomon Islands media reported last week.
Virivolomo was overseas and did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment.
The Solomon Islands has emerged as a hotspot in the U.S.-China rivalry in the Pacific. Its government signed a security pact with Beijing earlier this year and China, along with countries such as Indonesia and U.S. ally Australia, is helping to pay for the 2023 Pacific Games.
In 2018, Huawei was prevented from building an underseas communications cable for the Solomon Islands after Australia’s government intervened and offered to pay for the project.
The United States and several other countries have banned or circumscribed Huawei from providing domestic communications infrastructure, because of concerns national security could be compromised.
Only Malaita’s provincial assembly can decide whether the province should change its stance on Chinese investment, Waneta said.
“Malaita province will miss out on the opportunity to have better communication in the province unless the assembly revisit the Auki communiqué and amend it,” he said.
BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.