Malaita, a province with close ties to Taiwan, announced a referendum on separation. Last year, the Solomons broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan and recognised China. Internal political issues are behind the push for Malaita independence. Taiwan and the United States are playing a role in the regional power game.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – Malaita, the most populous province in the Solomon Islands, has announced a referendum on independence. Provincial authorities, which are closely aligned with Taiwan, accuse the central government of planning to sell out the country to China.
A year ago, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare broke off diplomatic relations with Taipei in favour of Beijing. Malaita Premier Daniel Suidani recently said that the vote for independence could be held as early as this month.
According to several observers, the criticisms levelled at Sogavare for his relations with China overlap with political, ethnic and cultural rifts that caused civil strife between 1998 and 2003.
The people of Malaita are very religious. The persecution of Chinese Christians and the undemocratic nature of the Chinese regime are a major concern for the local population.
The provincial government also lashed out at the national government for authorising air links with China, the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic.
Suidani said he would prevent Chinese from visiting the province. Local activists urged islanders to protest against Beijing, and called for the closure of all Chinese-run businesses on the island.
As reported by The Guardian, Taiwan is monitoring the situation. Since 2016 when Tsai Ing-wen was elected Taiwanese president, China has poached several of Taiwan’s diplomatic partners.
Taiwan, which China considers a "rebel province", has formal relations with only 15 states. After the Solomon Islands and Kiribati broke off relations last year, only four are left in the South Pacific.
To counter Beijing's "predatory" strategy, the Tsai administration has promoted relations with semi-independent states like Somaliland. Malaita could be another such state, even if its chances of gaining independence are minimal.
Local authorities could nevertheless receive support from the United States, which has repeatedly accused China of trying to expand its influence in the South Pacific.
According to press reports, last year Beijing asked the Solomon Islands to let it set up a naval base in Tulagi Island.