The Solomon Islands has granted a multi-million-dollar contract to a China based company for a project, funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), to upgrade an international port in Honiara.
China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) obtained the contract after submitting the only proposal in a crowded tender, reported Reuters.
The port reconstruction contract is a component of a $170 million ADB-funded project to improve roads and wharves, with CCECC receiving the roads component in 2022.
Mike Qaqara, an official at the Solomons’ infrastructure development ministry, said: “This will be upgrading the old international port in Honiara and two domestic wharves in the provinces.”
According to Reuters, the Solomon Islands government released a statement announcing: “This will see the rehabilitation of the old Honiara international port and construction of the Honiara domestic port and two provincial ports.”
Reuters also reported that the US and its allies – including Australia, New Zealand and Japan – have held concerns over the potential of China establishing a naval base in the region, notably following the security pact Solomon Islands struck with Beijing last year.
READ: US raises concerns over Chinese ‘spy-cranes’ at ports
Samoa’s Prime Minister, Fiam Naomi Mata’afa, told reporters in Australia that “this is a commercial port, although I think the fears are that it might morph into something else… dual purpose.”
She was one of 10 Pacific island leaders who declined to sign a regional security and trade pact with China in June, reported Reuters.
According to Peter Connolly, an expert on China’s Pacific infrastructure projects at the Australian National University, wharves were crucial for the Solomon Islands’ economic growth but they may turn into “dual purpose” facilities that could grant China’s naval access to the area.
Qaqara, however, informed Reuters that the Solomon Islands and China have denied that their security pact would allow a naval base.
Yet, Connolly contested that “it is not about bases it is about access,” while referring to the security pact between Honiara and Beijing.
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Delegations from China and the US have been in Honiara this past week vying for influence in the strategically positioned Pacific Island country.
Reuters reported that the Vice Chairman of China’s International Development Cooperation Agency, Tang Wenghong, and Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, met and signed the Global Development Initiative.
Kurt Campbell, the Indo-Pacific coordinator for the US National Security Council, and Sogavare also engaged in a “strategic dialogue,” according to a statement from the US embassy in Honiara.
In November 2022, China accused the US saying it had “no right” to interfere in cautioning against an investment from COSCO Shipping Ports Limited (CSPL) in Hamburger Hafen Und Logistik’s (HHLA) Container Terminal Tollerort (CTT) at the Port of Hamburg.