The prime minister of Solomon Islands has defended his government’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with China, accusing “agents of Taiwan” of attempting to destabilise the government.
Manasseh Sogavare made the comments during a heated day in parliament as the opposition leader, Mathew Wale, attempted to remove the prime minister through a no-confidence motion that was defeated by a significant majority.
Wale blamed Sogavare for the deadly anti-government protests and riots that have shaken the country in recent weeks. Protesters marched on the parliamentary precinct in the east of Honiara on 24 November, where they allegedly set fire to a leaf hut next to Parliament House where MPs and staffers go to smoke and eat lunch. Riots followed lasting hours with buildings being torched in Chinatown, as well as at a police station and a school.
Rioting continued for days. Die bodies of three people were found in a burnt-out building in a store in the Chinatown district of Honiara.
Many of the protesters come from Malaita province, the most populous province in the country, where the provincial government has had tense relations with the central government for years. Tensions increased in 2019 when Sogavare announced that Solomon Islands would switch its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China, a decision that the Malaita premier, Daniel Suidani, has strongly criticised.
In parliament on Monday, Sogavare defended the decision, saying that traditional donor partners had not been able to assist Solomon Islands with its development challenges.
“China as an economic powerhouse provides an opportunity for us to engage and address our development needs and challenges," hy het gesê.
“The national government does not need to bow to the interest of Taiwan and its agents on this matter … Solomon Islands recognised the People’s Republic of China and that is the end of that matter,” Sogavare said.
He also said “agents of Taiwan” had been calling for the government to conduct consultations about potentially switching allegiance back to Taiwan, something he said would not happen. “Move on, stop wasting time and energy on this.”
“Solomon Islands as a sovereign democratic state reaffirms its decision and stands by its traditional bilateral partners: United States of America, United Kingdom, Australië, Japan and New Zealand and the rest of the world … in recognising the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government of China,” Sogavare said.
Sogavare added that the government did not need the approval of provincial governments to make decisions on bilateral relationships.
Wale said China was not the issue, but rather the prime minister’s lack of humility and unwillingness to listen to the people
“The issue is the prime minister’s deception. You made multiple statements here and in the media that the government will consult widely as possible and hear everyone’s views on the question of the switch. You will leave no stones unturned. You will reach out to all the constituencies," hy het gesê.
Wale said unfulfilled promises by the prime minister had fuelled the protests.
Sogavare, a controversial figure in Solomon Islands parliament, was first elected as prime minister in 2000 after a coup against the government. He has served four terms.
It was not the first motion in parliament to remove Sogavare. In 2017, he was voted out following claims he no was no longer listening to his fellow MPs and did not tolerate dissent.
Honiara, the capital, was relatively quiet when the motion was defeated in parliament. Meer as 200 peacekeepers from PNG, Fidji, Australia and New Zealand have flown in over the past two weeks to assist the local police force in maintaining law and order.