The undersea cable project was supposed to bring reliable internet to the Solomon Islands, the small Pacific nation where Australian military and police forces have been helping keep political stability since 2004.
The project, which was to connect the Solomons to Sydney via a 4500-kilometre fibre optic cable, had the backing of the Asian Development Bank and a favoured contractor in a British-American company. It even had the nod from the Australian government to land the cable in Sydney.
But then last year, abruptly and allegedly without proper processes, the Solomons government switched to a subsidiary of the Chinese firm Huawei, which was banned from involvement in Australia’s national broadband network on security grounds on the advice of ASIO.
Since then, allegations have surfaced of a $6.5 million political donation paid by Huawei to the ruling party in Honiara. Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare visited Canberra this week and discussed the matter with his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull.
Mr Sogavare said afterwards that “the security issue was expressed to us” but added “we continue to have discussions with the Australian government to see how we can solve that” and expressed confidence there was a way through the issue.
In a separate statement, Mr Sogavare said he was “considering all available options” – which could point either to ditching Huawei as a contractor or connecting to another hub such as Fiji or Papua New Guinea.
Officially, Australia will assess any landing permit for the cable under the new arrangement with Huawei Marine – a joint venture between Huawei and British firm Global Marine Systems.