China officially opened its embassy to the Solomon Islands this week after a year trying to win the Pacific Island from Taiwan. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the diplomatic switch to Beijing is the right to do. Local media reported Sogavare saying, “It involved correcting the mistakes of the past and respecting each other’s territorial boundaries.”
Chinese ambassador, Li Ming, said Beijing’s diplomacy with the east of Papua New Guinea lies about 1,800km (1,118 miles) which benefits both.
However, people in Malaita claimed the place was still underdeveloped compared to the neighbouring island of Guadalcanal. Malaitan officials complained China is lacking democracy, suppression of Christianity and has engaged in debt-trap diplomacy.
Malaita’s Premier Daniel Suidani has vowed to oppose any loans or investment from China. He accused government MPs of trying to bribe him to accept. When that failed, he claimed North Korea sent ex-militants from the country’s 1998–2003 ethnic conflict to the province for threatening.
Tension triggered earlier this month after a chartered flight from Guangzhou full of passengers of Chinese embassy staff and workers. There are only 21 of the 104 Solomon Islanders. An adviser to Sudan, Celsus Talifilu said, “Not only that but I think there is a current perception amongst many people in the Solomons that the government has been bought by China, although it is tough to ascertain any evidence.”
The China State Railway Group proposed US$825 million to develop one of the nation’s richest mineral resources, the Gold Ridge gold mine in Guadalcanal. Real estate company China Sam Enterprise Group also was granted a lease for Tulagi Island.
A businessman and commentator, Michael Salini, said the islands’ national government needed to meet with locals in Malaita to explain the country’s diplomacy with Beijing. Islands’ federal government needs to persuade the relationship’s benefits of China investment.
Salini said, “Some people even go as far as thinking once the Chinese come in, they take over the country because they build a military base in the country. We don’t want those things. There is so much confusion, and there is so much frustration going on”. Anti-China sentiment can be found throughout the Solomon Islands, which maintained relations with Taiwan for more than three decades before last year’s switch.
director of the Centre for Pacific Islands Studies, Tarcisius Kabutaulaka said,
“These suspicions are due largely to people’s past experiences with China. These have mostly been with Chinese citizens, entrepreneurs and companies. Most Solomon Islanders, therefore, view and understand China through these interactions. Some Chinese entrepreneurs are also taking businesses away from Solomon Islanders.” said opposition MP, Kenilorea Jnr. He also added that the rumblings in Malaita are a lesson in the care that outside countries must take when seeking to make inroads in the Pacific.
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Prepared by: Farhana A.