China boosts South Pacific influence with Solomons port deal

Major infrastructure projects in the sprawling South Pacific archipelago are increasingly reliant on Chinese investment.

March 22, 2023 09:37 pm | Updated 09:37 pm IST - Sydney

A state-backed Chinese company has won a contract to develop a key port in the Solomon Islands, a major victory in Beijing's quest to gain a strategic toe-hold in the South Pacific.

Solomon Islands' government on Tuesday announced that the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation had been chosen to lead a $170 million project to develop the international port in the capital Honiara.

The Solomons have become the unlikely epicentre of a diplomatic tussle between China and the U.S., after it signed a secret security pact with Beijing in 2022.

Both China and Solomon Islands denied the pact would lead to the establishment of a permanent Chinese naval base, but the details of the agreement have never been revealed.

Major infrastructure projects in the sprawling South Pacific archipelago are increasingly reliant on Chinese investment, notably the construction of a new stadium for the upcoming Pacific Games in Honiara.

The Chinese company won a $7 million contract in 2020 to build a new terminal at Munda International Airport in Solomon Islands' Western Province, according to government contract notices.

The company was established by the Chinese government in the 1970s and has played an integral role in the Belt and Road initiative — a mammoth effort to build influence in developing countries across the globe.

It holds contracts for infrastructure projects throughout Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific, according to its company website.

The Honiara port contract was revealed on the same day that White House envoy Kurt Campbell visited Honiara as part of Washington's latest push to combat China's swelling economic and diplomatic footprint.

Mr. Campbell met with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who was instrumental in turning Solomon Islands towards China after severing diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

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