Covid is now a China-Australia power play
A crack in the Pacific's glass ceiling

Australia seeks to best China in Digicel deal

Denis O'Brien
Digicel Pacific's billionaire owner Denis O'Brien knows he's selling an asset of massive strategic importance


NOOSA – As China Mobile lines up  to swoop on Digicel’s mobile phone networks in the south-west Pacific, Australian security agencies are pushing hard to stop it.

The last thing they and their allies want in the fiercely-contested region is a Chinese telco giant taking over strategically important infrastructure in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific islands.

Digicel Pacific, owned by Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien, has been in financial bother for some time and is wanting to unload its telco assets in PNG, Fiji, Tonga, Nauru, Samoa and Vanuatu.

O'Brien is reported to be seeking more than $2 billion for the assets.

Australian telco Telstra is considering buying the networks and the Australian government is mulling plans to provide most of the financing.

The Morrison government could use Export Finance Australia to provide subsidised loans or loan guarantees to help Telstra acquire the Digicel assets.

Foreign  policy experts say this is is the most likely way to stop the China purchase and potentially spying on US, Australian and other installations in the south-west Pacific and to limit China’s influence in the region.

The Australian government has previously sought to limit Chinese interest in telecommunications by banning Huawei from involvement in Australia’s 5G mobile network and shutting it out of building an undersea high-speed internet cable to the Solomons.

Foreign policy expert Philip Citowicki told the ABC that O’Brien “would be acutely aware that raising the spectre of Chinese coercion will capture the attention of Australia and its allies.

“It is a cynical move, but one that is nevertheless rooted in reality,” Citowicki said.

“Countering such strategic moves are a costly but necessary reality for Australia and like-minded allies.”

Digicel has confirmed it has received unsolicited approaches from a number of parties interested in its Pacific operations.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the deal could see the Australian government need to stump up $1.5 billion.

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Capacity Media, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Sydney Morning Herald


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William Dunlop

What's needed is Basil's hegemony enacted in his Fawlty Towers saga, injected into the Middle Kingdom.

Chris Overland

This is just another incident in what seems likely to be a long and grinding war of economic attrition between the emergent authoritarian Chinese super power and its mostly democratic competitors.

Like Australia, PNG is already just another pawn in the new version of the Great Game, in which the major powers wrestle for economic, political and military advantage in places located far from their metropolitan homelands.

Having already conceded a great deal of economic and technological power to China in the utterly mistaken belief that it would some how transmogriphy into a liberal democracy, the world's democracies find themselves playing catch up in many ways.

This is essentially a re-run of what happened in the 1930's, when the world's democracies turned inwards and either chose to ignore or did not understand the nature of the threat emerging in the fascist ruled European countries and the Japanese Empire.

China has never been nor ever will be a democracy as we in the west understand this term. Even a fairly basic understanding of its ancient history reveals why this is so.

We in the west, in our hubris and folly, have ignored the profound impact of history and culture upon how the Chinese think about themselves and the world around them.

More fools us.

Bernard Corden

Most Australian taxpayers don't care and are indoctrinated by passive vicarious infotainment If words such as cool, awesome, perfect, excellent, all good and mate were removed from their vocabulary, especially in mobile phone retail stores, the silence would be deafening.


Ed Brumby

Given how our current government already squanders so much of our money on all manner of rorts, most Australian taxpayers probably don't give a toss about the Digicel matter - or the vain, doomed-to-fail, Sisyphean task of endeavouring to contain the Middle Kingdom.....

Pochon Lili

I wonder how Australian taxpayers feel about this costly war with China.

Philip Fitzpatrick

It appears that Thucydides' Trap doesn't just apply to conventional war in this modern age but also to economic war.

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