China is trying to buy influence with media in the Pacific as it aims to strengthen its presence in the region
By Mackenzie Smith and Toby Mann
01 August 2023
Concerns have been raised about foreign influence in Pacific media after it was revealed Solomon Islands’ longest-running newspaper received funding from China in return for favourable coverage.
Recently, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has revealed how China has been attempting to gain influence in media outlets in Palau and Solomon Islands.
In Palau, a failed media deal pushed by China has revealed how Beijing was seeking to exert its influence in the Pacific region by using political pressure and funding to capture local elites, including in the media.
The OCCRP said at least one front page story had been supplied by an initiative that was backed by investors with ties to China’s police and military.
China had even more success gaining favor in Solomon Islands, where it has steadily been increasing its presence and influence since the Pacific nation switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 2019.
There, according to the OCCRP, the Solomon Star newspaper received Chinese money after giving assurances it would push messages favorable to Beijing.
Desperate for funding, editors at the Solomon Star wrote up a proposal to China’s embassy in Honiara, in July last year.
The paper was struggling to keep up and needed assistance — its printing machines were deteriorating and papers were often hitting the streets a day late, according to the proposal the Solomon Star sent to China.
Its radio station, Paoa FM, was having difficulty broadcasting into remote provinces.
“Reporters obtained a July 2022 draft funding proposal from the Solomon Star to China’s embassy in Honiara in which the paper requested 1,150,000 Solomon Islands dollars ($206,300) for equipment including a replacement for its ageing newspaper printer and a broadcast tower for its radio station, PAOA FM,” OCCRP said.
“The Solomon Star said in the proposal that decrepit equipment was causing editions to come out late and ‘curtailing news flow about China’s generous and lightning economic and infrastructure development in Solomon Islands’.”
According to the proposal, seen by the ABC’s Pacific Beat program, China stood to gain “enormously”.