CHINA: IT’S A FAKE LETTER

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China's ambassador and former Isabel Premier, Lesley Kikolo
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Embassy slams latest claim on naval base

BY IRWIN ANGIKI

The Chinese embassy has downplayed a resurfaced 2020 letter purportedly revealing China’s intent on building a naval base here as “fake”.

Earlier this week, the Australian newspaper reported that China was not telling the truth when it said it did not have any plans to build a naval base here.

This media outburst was based on a letter purportedly written by the president of a China state-owned company to former premier of Isabel, Leslie Kikolo, in September 2020.

The letter is said to show President of AVIC-International Project Engineering Company, Mr Rong Qian, expressing intent “to study the opportunity to develop naval and infrastructure projects” in Isabel. The company also sought to improve “military cooperation with China”.

Kikolo, who was premier of Isabel then, speaking to Solomon Business Magazine (SBM) late July last year, denied this.

“This is totally false. I am very surprised to hear the report. I am not even aware of this report. My full executive had met today and we were shocked to hear that our province has been claimed in the report,” Kikolo told SBM.

Responding to Island Sun enquiries on Thursday this week, China’s embassy in Honiara refuted the report, labelling the letter as a fake.

“This is another fake news fabricated by a few western media using a fake letter,” a statement from the Embassy said.

“In recent years, some media has cooked up various lies, such as China will establish military base in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, etc,” it added.

“In the year of 2019, some media spread rumors that Chinese company will buy an island in SI [See end of report below].

“Facts have proven repeatedly that all these allegations are political hype-up.

“China-Solomon Islands security cooperation is intended to safeguard lives and property of the people. It is in the interests of SI and regional countries.

“Some western media showed no respect for professional ethics in smearing China-Solomon Islands security cooperation, which is doomed to failure.”

Isabel’s new premier, Rhoda Sikilabu, has not responded to enquiries by this paper, but is expected to make a public announcement on the matter soon.

The resurfacing of the letter follows a string of denials by China over suspicions it is planning to build a naval base in the Solomon Islands, using the recently signed security pact between the two countries as roadmap.

China and Solomon Islands formalised the security deal on March 31, in what pundits have described as a hasty move after a copy of the draft was leaked onto social media on March 24, 2022.

Since the leak, concerns have been raised; one of the main ones is that the deal could pave a way for China to build a naval base here.

China and Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare have also, since then, been fervently denying the notion.

Sogavare told parliament last month there was “no intention whatsoever… to ask China to build a military base in the Solomon Islands”.

The Embassy in Honiara said: “This is utterly misinformation deliberately spread with political motive.”

The idea of China building a naval base in the Solomons has been worrying most especially to Australia, with media phrasing it as, “China gaining a foothold in Australia’s backyard” and “China could have a military base just 2000km from Australia’s east coast”.

Meanwhile, with regards to the Embassy’s response to Island Sun, “In the year of 2019, some media spread rumors that Chinese company will buy an island in SI”; it refers to an incident in which a deal between the Central province and a Chinese state-owned company, SAM Group, was annulled by the attorney general.

This was after much pressure by public and media after details of the agreement were leaked.

The deal, if allowed to go ahead, would have given the company ownership of Tulaghi and surrounding islands for a lease of 75 years.


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