HONIARA: The Chinese government granted more than $130,000 to Solomon Islands news company in exchange for agreeing to “promote the truth about China’s generosity and its true intention to help develop” the Pacific island country, a funding document and email reviewed by Radio Free Asia-affiliated news organization BenarNews has revealed.
After the Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare shifted the island nation’s diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, the nation became a hotspot in the rivalry between China and the United States.
In 2022, the Solomons signed a security pact with China sparking alarm for the US and allies like Australia, who fear that it could result in China’s military presence in the region, Radio Free Asia reported.
According to a funding proposal made to the Chinese embassy in July 2022 by the owner of the Solomon Star newspaper and Paoa FM radio station, a collaboration will benefit Beijing by “promoting China as the most generous and trusted development partner in the Solomon Islands,” the report said.
The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which is funded by nonprofit organisations and government agencies, first reported about the pay-for-play agreement. It said that its Pacific reporting is funded by a no-strings-attached US government grant, Radio Free Asia reported.
The documents examined by BenarNews give detailed information about what was previously an open secret in some circles in the Solomon Islands regarding gifts from the Chinese embassy intended for the local media. One of the two major newspapers in the Solomon Islands is The Solomon Star.
The documents reviewed by BenarNews provide specific details of what was an open secret in some circles in the Solomon Islands about the money or gifts from China’s embassy directed at the country’s media. The Solomon Star is one of the two main newspapers in the Pacific Island nation.
Solomon Star’s senior journalist Alfred Sasako sent an email to the newspaper’s reporters. In the email, Sasako reprimanded the reporters for critical coverage of Sogavare’s official visit to Beijing in July, according to Radio Free Asia report.
In the email reviewed by BenarNews, Sasako said, “I write to place on record my profound disappointment about our front page article, titled China Trip Exposed,” Radio Free Asia reported.
“My further disappointment is the fact that such publicity makes it very difficult for me to deal with the Chinese Embassy on matters pertaining to Chinese Government support for [the] Solomon Star,” he said in the email that also praised the benefits of China’s assistance to the Solomon Islands.
An editorial in the Solomon Star’s Tuesday edition defended its Chinese government funding. It further denied that the Chinese embassy had disapproved of the newspaper for negative coverage or attempted to censor any reports.
The article said, “Yes, Solomon Star has nothing to hide.” It said, “We have received funding support from China,” and further said that other media organizations and journalists in the Solomon Islands were also receiving or seeking Chinese government funding, according to Radio Free Asia report.
According to the funding document, Lamani family-owned Solomon Star contacted the Chinese Embassy about financial assistance in 2021. The embassy had agreed to give about $41,000. The agreed funding was increased to about $133,000 in June 2022 based on a “new Project format” offered by the embassy.
The COVID-19 pandemic severely affected the media outlet’s finances, forcing it to fire half of its 100 employees, and outdated printing equipment implied it was sometimes not able to print its editions on time, according to the document cited by Radio Free Asia.
It expressed concern regarding delays in receiving the funds for new printing equipment, which implied the “intent of our mutual partnership to inform, educate and entertain the people of Solomon Islands about China and its development marvels has suffered as well.” The newspaper prints 6,000 copies each day, with a readership estimated to be double that.
China has been working to isolate Taiwan and establish its own set of international institutions. China’s most notable achievement in increasing its influence among Pacific island nations in recent years has been the Solomon Islands, according to the report. The Solomon Islands have sought to gain from the rivalry between China and the US by gaining additional development aid under the country’s current PM Sogavare.
The nation, which is an island 2,100 kilometres northeast of Australia’s Brisbane, struggles with deteriorating roads, constrained connectivity, and a lack of basic healthcare. During his week-long visit to China in July, Sogavare was honoured by Chinese lawmakers.
Sogavare also praised Chinese leaders, including the country’s President Xi Jinping. (ANI)