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China backing Guadalcanal project

Thursday 3 May 2018 | Published in Regional

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SOLOMON ISLANDS – A Solomon Islands official has hit back at reports that a proposed Chinese-backed development project could challenge Australia’s strategic dominance in the region.

The Australian newspaper reported yesterday that senior Solomon Islands officials had approached Chinese investors to build a “tourism hub” – which would include an airport – on the southeast coast of the country’s main island Guadalcanal.

Anthony Veke, the premier of Guadalcanal and one of the politicians named in the report, confirmed to ABC Radio Australia that he was in talks with both Chinese and Australian investors, and travelled to China for meetings on the proposal.

Veke said the project was “still very much at the early stages,” and that he did not believe it posed a threat to Australia’s interests.

“I respect the views expressed in the media in relation to the fears that people might have in the Pacific, but again it is a commercial undertaking and we are dealing with investors who would like to develop the province,” he said.

“Everybody in the world is trading with China – so why is it impossible for a province in the Solomon Islands to trade with China?”

Australian officials have voiced concern in recent months that China’s concessional loans to Pacific countries are being used to gain influence in the region.

“I don’t see this as a threat to anyone, because we are developing an investment plan that is beneficial to the country of Solomon Islands,” Veke said.

Veke’s social media posts show a number of trips to China including Guangzhou. Sources said the travel had been to meet investors.

The report in The Australian newspaper said proponents claimed the development would encourage Chinese tourism on the southern Weather Coast of Guadalcanal.

The Canberra-based BV Group of Australian businessmen Victor Ink Kai Tang and David Tai Chun Ngai is involved in bringing in Chinese investors.

Tang told The Australian he welcomed investment in the project from any country, “not just Chinese investors”. He said the focus was tourism.

But former Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands James Batley told the ABC that even if that was true, he doubted the project would ever go ahead.

“It’s certainly a part of the country that would benefit from development, but the obstacles in the way of that are really formidable,” Batley said.

“The idea of investors putting money to promote what is at the moment a non-existent tourist industry without any infrastructure at all just strikes me as pie-in-the-sky stuff.”

Asked about the media reaction to some of China’s recent investments in the Pacific, Batley said: “I do think there’s a bit of hyperventilation going on, put it that way.”

He added: “The Solomons is an interesting case because it has diplomatic relations with Taiwan, not with China.”

While he was sure that China would like Solomon Islands to change its stance, Batley said it was unlikely to happen soon.

“It’s been a minority view and Taiwan works very hard at the relationship,” he said. - ABC