Solomon Islands Violence Recedes, Underlying Tension Remains

The violence in the Solomon Islands’ capital, Honiara, subsided on Friday, but the administration showed no evidence of resolving the underlying issues that caused the two-day rioting, which included fears over the country’s growing ties with China.

Manasseh Sogavare, the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, attempted to shift attention away from internal concerns by blaming outside influence for inciting the protests, with a barely veiled allusion to Taiwan and the US.

External influences had a “significant… impact.” I’m not going to mention any names. “We’re going to leave it at that,” Sogavare remarked.

rioters, looters, and demonstrators converged on Honiara’s Chinatown and downtown area, demanding Sogavare’s resignation, which he had held intermittently since 2000.

Leaders of the country’s most populated island, Malaita, have chastised Sogavare for his choice in 2019 to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of mainland China. Meanwhile, his government is displeased with millions of dollars in US help promised directly to Malaita rather than via the central government.

According to Jonathan Pryke, head of the Pacific Islands program at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, those concerns are only the latest in decades of animosity between Malaita and Guadalcanal, where the capital, Honiara, is located.

“Most of the tension’s causes have been in the nation for decades or generations, and a lot of it stems from the country’s abysmal poverty, limited economic growth chances, and inter-ethnic and inter-island competition between the two most populated islands,” he added.

“So everyone is pointing fingers, but some fingers should also be directed at the Solomon Islands’ political leaders.”

With a population of roughly 700,000 people, the Solomon Islands are located about 1,500 kilometers (1,000 miles) northeast of Australia. They are perhaps best recognized internationally for the terrible combat that took place there during World War II between the US and Japan.

Riots and looting occurred Wednesday in Honiara following a peaceful rally by Malaita residents protesting a variety of issues. Demonstrators set fire to the National Parliament, a police station, and a number of other structures, prompting police to use tear gas and rubber bullets.

Protesters resisted a Sogavare-ordered curfew on Wednesday, returning to the streets on Thursday.

Critics also blamed the upheaval on concerns about a lack of government services and accountability, as well as corruption and Chinese companies hiring foreigners rather than locals.

With the breakout of the COVID-19 epidemic immediately after the transition in allegiance from Taiwan to China in 2019, there has been an anticipation of huge infrastructure investment from Beijing — locally estimated to be in the neighborhood of $500 million — but none of that has yet occurred.

Malaita threatened to call an independence referendum over the matter, but Sogavare’s administration vetoed it.

Sogavare stated on Friday that his government’s choice to embrace Beijing was the “sole issue” in the violence, which he described as “sadly influenced and supported by other countries.”

“I’m not going to prostrate myself in front of anyone.” He stated, “We are intact, the government is intact, and we will preserve democracy.”

More than broad geopolitical worries, Pryke said, the protests were motivated by discontent with a predominantly youthful population’s lack of prospects and the concentration of much of the country’s riches in the capital.

He claimed, “I tell you the great majority of those participating in the rioting and looting couldn’t identify China or Taiwan out on a map.” “They were there as opportunists since their economic opportunities had been limited.” It’s a poor nation with significant young unemployment, and this just goes to show how fast things can get out of hand in a dangerous country.”

Late Thursday, a plane carrying Australian police and diplomats arrived in Honiara to assist local police in restoring order.

On Friday, up to 50 additional Australian police officers, as well as 43 defense force troops and a naval patrol boat, were expected to arrive.

Sogavare had sought them under a bilateral treaty with Australia, and the presence of an independent unit, despite its tiny size, seemed to help soothe some of the violence.

In 2003, Australia stepped in to help the Solomon Islands after years of violent ethnic warfare known as “the tensions.” The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, an international police and military mission commanded by Australia, worked to restore peace before departing in 2017.

According to Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, the Australian servicemen will be on standby for “a couple of weeks.”

On Friday, Payne told reporters that she had no evidence that other nations had sparked the violence.

“We haven’t stated anything about it,” Payne said.

In a show that it is not taking political sides, Australia is refusing to assist in the defense of the National Parliament and executive facilities.

“We’ve been quite forthright. “We don’t want to see violence,” Payne explained. “We sincerely wish for a return to normalcy.”

One of the concerns that sparked the demonstrations, according to local journalist Gina Kekea, was the shift in foreign policy to Beijing with minimal public participation. Foreign corporations were also accused of not offering local jobs, according to the allegations.

“Chinese and (other) Asian enterprises… appear to be doing the majority of the job,” Kekea added, “particularly when it comes to extracting resources, which people are passionate about.”

On Friday in Chinatown, protesters were replaced by looters and scavengers, according to Kekea.

“It’s been two days of looting, protesting, and rioting, and Honiara is only a little town,” Kekea remarked. The population of the capital is 85,000 people.

“I believe there isn’t much left for them to plunder and ruin anymore,” she explained.

Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, questioned if Chinese persons and businesses were being singled out. He called the turmoil “a bit of a mixed narrative,” noting that riots had occurred in Chinatown before to Australia’s participation in 2003.

Zhao Lijian, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, denounced the violence on Friday and emphasized Beijing’s support for the Solomon Islands administration. He stated that China is taking steps to protect the safety and rights of Chinese citizens and institutions in the nation.

“We think that under Prime Minister Sogavare’s leadership, the Solomon government can quickly restore order and calm the internal situation,” he stated.

“Any attempts to impede the regular growth of China-Solomon relations are useless,” Zhao said, adding that the creation of diplomatic ties with Beijing “had received the honest support of the people.”

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