The Solomon Islands on Thursday said that a deal signed by one of its provinces to lease the entire island of Tulagi to a Chinese company is unlawful and should be terminated.
Details of the controversial long-term lease between the Solomon Islands’ Central Province and China Sam Enterprise Group Co (中國森田企業集團) were made public shortly after the Pacific nation switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing last month. The shift in allegiance sparked a strong rebuke from the US.
Solomon Islands Attorney General John Muria said that the province and Chinese company were not legally able to strike such an agreement without government involvement.
“The agreement was not vetted by the attorney general’s chambers before signing,” Muria said in a statement.
The agreement was “unlawful, unenforceable and must be terminated with immediate effect,” Muria said.
The agreement, dated Sept. 22, purportedly offers wide-ranging powers to the Chinese conglomerate to develop infrastructure on Tulagi and surrounding islands.
Headquartered in Beijing, China Sam Enterprise Group is a technology, investment and energy conglomerate founded in 1985 as a state-owned enterprise.
It yesterday declined to make available executives who could speak to reporters.
In a statement on its Web site, the firm said that its representatives had met Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare early this month during a state visit to China by a delegation from the Pacific island nation.
Tulagi hosted US bases in World War II and is where the Solomon Islands former capital city was located before it was moved to the island of Guadalcanal.
A signatory to the agreement, Central Province Premier Stanley Manetiva told reporters that he would abide by the government’s advice.
“We have to comply to follow the right procedures,” Manetiva said.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said that she had “no understanding” of the issue.
However, China has consistently called on Chinese companies operating abroad to follow local laws, she added.
China’s interests in the Solomon Islands have sparked criticism from Taiwan and the US, which have said that Beijing will saddle the island nation with unsustainable debt.
Yao Ming (姚明), deputy chief of mission at China’s embassy in Papua New Guinea, on Wednesday told a briefing in the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara, that China would build some infrastructure, including a sports stadium, as a “state gift.”
The US and Britain were historically responsible for putting countries into financial distress, he said.
“China is not a country to make so-called debt traps,” Yao told local reporters. “You can see which country has been embroiled in debt traps... Not China, but United States and Britain.”
China would also support Huawei Technologies Co (華為) to build more infrastructure in the Solomon Islands, Yao said.
Australia, a strong regional ally to the US, has previously limited Huawei’s expansion in the archipelago.
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