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Pacific News Minute: Chinese Bid To Lease Tulagi Island Fails

FILE - Ships are docked offshore in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, Nov. 24, 2018.
AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein
In this Nov. 24, 2018, photo, ships are docked offshore in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.

A Chinese company’s bid to lease Tulagi Island in the Solomons has been rejected by the country’s attorney general and the provincial leader who signed the five-year agreement has pronounced the deal dead.

Just days after the Solomon Islands switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing last month, Stanley Manetiva, the premier of the Solomons Central Province signed an agreement to lease Tulagi and surrounding islands to China Sam – a development company with close ties to the Chinese government.

Strategists from Canberra to Washington immediately worried about military bases.

If the name Tulagi sounds familiar, it was the scene of the first American counter attack in the Pacific in 1942. U.S. Marines waded ashore on August 6th. A few hours later, more Marines landed on Guadalcanal, about 20 miles away across a body of water that came to be known as Iron Bottom Sound. While the landing on Guadalcanal was unopposed, the battles for Tulagi and two smaller islands nearby proved to be a preview of bitter island battles to come. 122 Marines were killed fighting Japanese troops dug into caves and bunkers; Japanese dead totaled 863.

Before the war, Tulagi served as the headquarters of the British Protectorate of the Solomons, and its large deep water anchorage became an important American Naval base.

Premier Manetiva poured cold water on the China Sam deal shortly after he signed it “To be honest here,” he told RNZ Pacific, “leasing Tulagi will not be possible.” Then, last week, the attorney general of the Solomons declare the deal unlawful and unenforceable.

But Solomon Islands will get a gift from China, a stadium to host the 2023 Pacific Games in Honiara.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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