Sun. Dec 5th, 2021

A major cause of the unrest is a key decision by the Solomon Islands government to shift diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China, says an expert.

Jonathan Pryke, of the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, told 9News.com.au that the 2019 decision sparked a major dispute between the central government and the province of Malaita – the most populous island in the Solomon Islands archipelago.

A building on fire in Honiara.
A foreign policy decision from the Solomon Islands is behind the unrest in the capital Honiara, experts say. (Nine)

The Solomon Islands had previously been among only a few countries with diplomatic ties to Taiwan rather than China.

But two years ago, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s government established formal diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Dr. Pryke said that after ethnic tensions in the Solomon Islands had subsided for years, they have been revived by the foreign policy decision.

“There have been tensions between Guadalcanal – where the capital Honiara is located – and Malaita for a long time,” said Dr. Pryke.

“But they were containment – with the help of Australian peacekeeping forces – back in 2003.

People walk through the looted streets of Chinatown, Honiara, Solomon Islands. (AP)

“Now geopolitics has pulled the lid off of them.”

Sir. Sogavare said he stood by his government’s decision to embrace Beijing, which he described as the “only problem” in the violence, which “was unfortunately influenced and encouraged by other powers”.

External pressure was a “very big … influence. I do not want to name names. We leave it there,” Mr Sogavare said.

Do China and Taiwan matter in the Solomon Islands?

The decision to change diplomatic relations with Beijing proved unpopular in Malaita province, said Dr. Pryke.

And the Taiwanese government has continued to support the province’s prime minister, Daniel Suidani, despite Solomon’s government, he said.

This has included medical supplies to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in Malaita and food aid.

Meanwhile, the expansion of diplomatic, trade and business relations with China and other nations has been met with concerns that Solomon Islanders are losing.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison along with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in 2019. (AAP)

Foreigners exposed to violence

There have long been complaints that foreign companies did not provide local jobs in the Solomon Islands.

According to Dr. Pryke takes many troublemakers their complaints beyond the Chinese in Honiara and the surrounding area.

“More Chinese have arrived recently … they are very vulnerable, they have no long-standing roots there … and they are being targeted now,” he said.

Australian federal police are preparing for deployment to the Solomon Islands. (Included)

Dr. Pryke said the violence was unlikely to lead to Solomon Islands resuming diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

“There was an exhaustive debate on the issue in 2019 … It’s done and dusted off by now,” he said.

Instead, he says Australia’s rapid response to sending peacekeepers and advisers to Honiara should calm tensions in the short term.

But until the next election in the Solomon Islands in 2023, the political divide in the country looks set to continue.

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