Solomon Islands has secured a $66 million loan from China to fund tech giant Huawei building 161 telecoms towers across the Pacific nation, its government said Thursday.
It is the first large-scale financing the country has received from Beijing since they signed a secretive security pact in April.
The island nation’s growing financial and security links to China have roused concern from the United States and its allies, including Australia, which had agreed to build six telecoms towers in the country.
The Solomons will receive a 20-year concessional loan from state-linked Export-Import Bank of China that will fully fund Huawei’s construction of the towers, the government said, calling it a “historical financial partnership”.
Almost half of the towers will be built before the country hosts the Pacific Island Games in November 2023, according to the government’s statement.
The towers would allow Solomon Islanders, especially those in rural areas, to watch the games even if they cannot travel to capital Honiara, the government said.
Western officials have warned China could use the security pact to build a military base in the country — something the Pacific nation’s prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, has repeatedly denied.
The country switched diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing in 2019.
A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said they were aware of the telecoms deal and supported infrastructure investment that “avoids unsustainable debt burdens”.
Earlier this month, Sogavare proposed changing the constitution to delay national elections until after the games, saying the country could not afford both events.
That was slammed as a “lame excuse” by opposition leader Matthew Wale.
If the push to delay elections is successful, Solomon Islands would not go to the polls until 2024 at the earliest.
The next election — currently due to be held before September 2023 — will be the country’s first since widespread rioting by anti-Sogavare protests broke out in Honiara last year.
It would also be the first poll since Sogavare signed the security pact with Beijing, which — according to a leaked draft — would allow Chinese security forces to be called in to quell unrest. AFP