Tue, Sep 03, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Ministry downplays Solomons threat

ALLEGIANCES:A report cited an opposition lawmaker as saying there is a certain thinking for Honiara to switch ties to Beijing, but the ministry said ties remain stable

Staff writer, with CNA and Reuters

From left, the national flags of the Solomon Islands, Taiwan, St Kitts and Nevis, and Eswatini fly outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taipei on May 21.

Photo: David Chang, EPA-EFE

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday downplayed a Reuters report that the Solomon Islands could be ready to announce a switch in ties to Beijing as early as this week.

The ties between Taiwan and the Solomons remain strong and stable, as evidenced by the ongoing cooperation, ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) said, citing the visa waiver agreement that Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare signed last month in Tuvalu on the sidelines of the Pacific Islands Forum.

The Reuters report cited Solomon Islands opposition lawmaker Peter Kenilorea as saying that “there’s a certain thinking with the current government and executive to switch… It doesn’t take much imagination to work out what the task force will recommend.”

“The amount of money that has already been spent by the government on this is quite telling,” he was quoted as saying.

Kenilorea chairs a foreign relations parliamentary committee that is to review recommendations from a task force to evaluate ties with Taiwan that was formed after a general election in April, when Sogavare’s new government said it would re-evaluate ties with Taiwan during its first 100 days in office.

The task force returned from a tour of Pacific nations allied to China just before a visit in the middle of last month to Beijing by eight Cabinet ministers and Sogavare’s private secretary, Reuters said.

Both the task force and panel of ministers were clearly leaning toward Beijing, a government lawmaker who declined to be named told Reuters, but did not rule out a surprise.

Any decision made by Sogavare’s government would require consultations with the parliament and Cabinet as well, Ou said, citing a statement issued last month by 15 lawmakers, including former Solomons Island prime minister Rick Hou, in support of maintaining diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Taiwan has been a trustworthy partner in the nation’s development since diplomatic ties were established in 1983, and while some people have been pushing the government to switch diplomatic recognition to Beijing, lured by “the glitter of China’s economic power,” they are in the minority and have motives other than the national interests of the Solomon Islands, the statement said.

The majority of Solomon Islands’ citizens would reject any such proposal, the statement added.

A diplomatic source told the Central News Agency at the time that 13 of the 15 lawmakers who signed the statement were members of Sogavare’s Cabinet, which indicated a strong consensus for maintaining relations with Taiwan.

The Solomon Islands-China Friendship Association, which represents China in the Solomon Islands, said that while it was not privy to political discussions, it appeared that the government was split over the issue.

“At this point, it remains unclear whether the Solomon Islands government will agree on a switch to China or remain with the status quo,” it told Reuters in an e-mailed statement.

Many students oppose the change, Ishmael Aitorea, a student at the University of the South Pacific in the capital, Honiara, told Reuters.

“Taiwan has been faithful in giving us aid; a lot of us don’t trust China,” Aitorea added.

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