Australia has called for the Solomon Islands to withdraw from an undersea cable project entitled ‘Project Honiara’ after the tender for the contract was awarded to Chinese telecommunications colossus Huawei. Australia and Huawei have had a checkered history and the country has cited security concerns in order to justify their calls to the Solomon Islands to withdraw from the project.
In 2012, the Chinese telecommunications firm was prevented from obtaining any contracts for Australia’s NBN. It was claimed at that the time that the Attorney-General’s department took that decision following advice from ASIO, despite the fact that powerful Coalition and Labor politicians such as John Brumby and Alexander Downer lobbied strongly on behalf of Huawei.
The order was rubberstamped despite other objections from other Coalition MP’s, including current Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull, who was then serving as the shadow communications spokesman. The Project Honiara undersea cable initiative has been established in order to improve the capacity of the local telecommunications operator ‘Our Telekom’ on the Solomon Islands, in an effort to boost connectivity, and domestic and international calls.
A fortnight ago, The Solomon Islands and Huawei publicly announced that they had signed a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) in relation the project, but now the commencement of the project is expected to be delayed following Australia’s intervention.
Reports have suggested that Australia’s vehement opposition to Huawei’s participation in the project has been conveyed to Solomon Islands Prime Minister by ASIS director-general Nick Warner. It has been claimed that Warner raised the concerns expressed by Australia when he met the Prime Minster of the Solomon Island last month in connection with the end of the Regional Assistance Mission.
In addition to this, it was further disclosed that if the Solomon Islands proceeded with the project in partnership with Huawei, that Australia would be left with no other option but to withdraw the license for landing rights in Sydney. It is believed that Warner stressed clearly that any other supplier apart from the Chinese company would be deemed acceptable by Australia.
Chief of staff to the Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Robson Djokovich stated that he was unaware of any official statement from either country in relation to the situation.
He said: “National security concerns of the Australian Government in relation to the integrity of NBN, is of public knowledge - and not a new issue to all stakeholders of the Submarine Cable Project.”