Australian ECA may finance buyer for Pacific mobile network Digicel to block China

(Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 14 January 2021) China Mobile is firming as the most likely Chinese company to make a play for telecommunications assets in the Pacific in a move that would trouble Australia’s national security agencies. Digicel, owned by Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien, is under financial pressure and looking to offload its mobile phone networks across the region including in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. The Morrison government is considering using the nation’s export credit agency, Export Finance Australia, to provide support to other private bidders looking to acquire the assets. This could be in the form of subsidised loans or loan guarantees. Australian security agencies are concerned about the prospect of a Chinese telco gaining a foothold in the region and potentially spying on our close neighbours, government sources said. O'Brien is reportedly asking for more than $2 billion for the assets, but industry sources put the value at less than $1 billion.