Riots in the Solomon Islands: government accused of selling the country out to Beijing

Following attack on Parliament, the Chinatown of the capital Honiara was targeted. Australian peacekeeping force sent. Demands for ouster of Prime Minister Sogavare: in 2109 he broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan and recognized China. The rioters come for the most part from the island of Malaita, which has close ties with Taipei.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Rioters in the Solomon Islands today targeted the Chinatown of the capital Honiara, defying a government-ordered curfew. Yesterday, groups of demonstrators stormed the national parliament demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, accused of having sold out the archipelago to the Chinese. At the request of local authorities, Australia has sent a small contingent of soldiers and policemen to quell the unrest.

Most of the protesters are from the island of Malaita, the most populous province of the Solomons. In September 2020, local Premier Daniel Suidani had proposed a referendum to separate from the rest of the country. According to Suidani, the central government neglects the interests and needs of the island, which has close ties with Taiwan. Tension between Malaita and domestic authorities grew after Sogavare broke off diplomatic relations with Taipei in 2019 and laced them with Communist China.

Since 2016, when Tsai Ing-wen was elected president, China has wrested several diplomatic partners from Taipei. At present, Taiwan, which the Chinese leadership considers a "rebel province," has formal relations with only 15 states. In the South Pacific, there are four, following the 2019 rupture with the Solomon Islands and Kiribati.

Criticism of Sogavare's relations with Beijing overlaps with political, ethnic and cultural disputes that had already led to civil conflict between 1998 and 2003. Malaita is an island with a strongly religious character. Persecution of Chinese Christians and the undemocratic nature of the Beijing regime are of concern to the local population.

The Chinese embassy in the Solomons has expressed concern about the situation. An angry mob had already destroyed the Chinese neighborhood of Honiara in the aftermath of the 2006 elections: riots broke out after information emerged about possible fraud orchestrated by businessmen with ties to Beijing.

The internal conflict between Honiara and Malaita had already led to the presence of an Australia  peacekeeping mission to the archipelago from 2003 to 2017. According to Lowy Institute data referring to 2019, Australians are the top providers of development aid to the South Pacific islands, followed by New Zealanders, Japanese and Chinese. 

China's weight in the region, however, continues to grow. The US has repeatedly accused Beijing of wanting to expand its influence in the South Pacific for geopolitical purposes, exploiting the "debt trap" to take control of local assets. According to various international media, in 2019 Beijing asked the Solomons for permission to use Tulagi Island as a naval base.