Taiwan accused China of bribing Solomon politicians, who switched diplomatic allegiances to Beijing from Taipei.
The Solomon Islands is an archipelago made up of nearly a thousand islands in the Pacific, about 1,000 miles northeast of Australia. The island chain has a population of 710,000, primarily farmers and fishers. Malaita is the most populous of the islands, with residents numbering 160,500 as of 2020. Densely forested, mountainous and volcanic, it lies 30 miles northeast of Guadalcanal, the larger island, across Indispensable Strait.
For decades, there was discontent between the two islands, mainly over a perceived unequal distribution of resources and a lack of economic support that has left Malaita one of the least-developed provinces in the island nation.
Few factors were responsible for the unrest. First, the Island Nation had recognized Taiwan as a State and had good relations with investments and aid. There was a deep intergovernmental understanding. However, in a dramatic turn of events, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in 2019 switched diplomatic allegiances to Beijing from Taipei.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Beijing of bribing Solomons politicians to abandon Taipei in the run-up to the 70th anniversary of founding the People’s Republic of China under the Communist Party. Many Solomon’s Citizens did not like their Government decision to go with China.
Secondly, a slug-shaped strip of land across from Guadalcanal with around 2,000 residents, Tulagi has a natural deepwater port. The island was the Solomons’ capital under British and then Japanese rule. A Chinese company China Sam was granted exclusive development rights for at least 75 years. It was signed by the head of the provincial government and executives from a Beijing-based conglomerate founded as a state-owned enterprise. The attorney general’s office said the agreement should be terminated because China Sam had not registered as a foreign investor and yet tried to secure the right to negotiate with every other Chinese company that might be interested in Tulagi.
The agreement had shocked residents of the island, some of whom feared that China was seeking to establish a military foothold there. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s government had previously welcomed China Sam executives to the country. And during Mr. Sogavare’s trip to China, he met with China Sam’s senior leaders, which was looked down on in great suspicion by Solomon Island People.
Thirdly the country’s key trading partners that account for 40% of total imports were at the centre of the Covid-19 outbreak; China, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore and Japan. This disturbed the supply chain of materials for consumption, manufacturing and investment in the country with severe unemployment and food crisis, corruption among the inner circles was felt by the people, and lastly, China used the island for geopolitics interest to prevent America from asserting influence in the region and China trying to encircle Australia through the Islands also was seen by the opposition forces?
Many of the protesters had travelled from the island of Malaita to Guadalcanal Island, which houses the nation’s capital; protesters stormed the personal residence of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, setting a building nearby on fire. Protesters stormed the national Parliament in Honiara. Few particular ethnic Towns have been targeted by burning, shops destroyed, the police station’s on fire and mass lootings. Though police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, it went in vain.
The police also fired shots to scatter protesters. The police said they had arrested two people and sought to quell speculation that officers had killed the arrestees. The demand now is for Mr. Sogavare’s resignation on a large scale.
Earlier in 2006, riots broke out amid rumours that the election of an unpopular prime minister had been influenced by Chinese money. Due to the happenings, their police officers from Australia came to assist security there. Papua New Guinea also committed to sending peacekeeping.
Solomon Islands is caught in the geopolitics of the US, Taiwan and China. How divided is the Island means China supports the Prime Minister and Government while Malaita’s premier, Daniel Suidani, criticized PM support to Taiwan and still today, Malaita continues to maintain a relationship and receive support from Taiwan in contravention to the central government’s position. Meanwhile, America also provided Malaita with direct foreign aid while China supported the central government, existing fractures in the nation have deepened.
Finally, one can say that outside intervention by big powers like China for their narrow political gains of expansion can make nations and Islands collapse. It can divide the harmony of the region with protests, loots and ethnic targets. In an interview, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the sole source of the conflict was the diplomatic switch to Beijing, dismissing other concerns about his government. In a statement posted, the Chinese Embassy in Honiara said that Chinese residents in “high-risk areas” should shut their businesses and hire security guards.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said China was “gravely concerned all measures necessary to protect the safety of Chinese nationals and institutions.” China has to learn that unilaterally changing land, air and water or building artificial villages, changing Foreign Relations with any Country or bribing Governments or politicians of that nation for its narrow political interests can’t always be successful. A Small spark has begun in the Solomon Islands. We hope it does not carry to Africa, Asia, Europe, South America’s and the Pacific in the future. For now, the fire has begun.