Fri, Sep 06, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Ministry refuses to confirm rumored Solomon Islands visit on Sunday

PENDING REPORT:The head of the Pacific nation’s re-evaluation task force said that Beijing offered to set up a development fund, even though it prefers other means

Staff writer, with CNA and Reuters

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) yesterday neither confirmed nor denied a visit by Solomon Islands Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade Jeremiah Manele on Sunday, which would be seen as a indicator of diplomatic relations amid speculation of a possible switch of relations by Honiara to Beijing.

Manele is planning to visit Taipei, an official with knowledge of the plan said on condition of anonymity, adding that if the trip takes place, it would show that ties between Taipei and Honaira remain strong.

Another diplomatic source confirmed the disclosure and said that Manele would be in Taipei for five or six days.

He also said that the Solomon Islands is hoping for Taiwan’s assistance in developing major transportation infrastructure projects.

“Our interactions with the Solomon Islands remain normal. Arrangements for Solomon dignitaries’ Taiwan visits have been going on regularly,” Ou said.

Speculation over a possible switch of diplomatic allegiance has been under the spotlight after the nation’s new government in April vowed to review its relations.

Meanwhile, Solomon Islands Minister for Police, National Security and Correctional Services Peter Shanel Agovaka on Wednesday told a legislative committee that after four decades of independence and a long-term alliance with Taiwan, it was time to make a change.

“We cannot sit for the next 40 years with our friends Taiwan. It is time that we make new friends — it’s time that we should move on with our life,” Agovaka said, according to a recording of the meeting in Honiara.

“Our new relationship will deal with a ‘one China’ policy; a ‘one China’ policy that recognizes only Beijing as the official government administration,” he said.

Agovaka is leader of a government team convened to speak with Beijing.

The government is waiting for a task force report on the issue before it decides whether to swap relations.

The task force is dominated by lawmakers who support a change, two political sources with direct knowledge of the issue said.

An observer at the committee hearings said that there would be pushback against a switch, although it was not clear if there were options to block a change.

“The government is trying to make a relationship with China now, but to formalize it we need to wait for the report,” the observer said.

Anti-graft agency Transparency Solomon Islands has urged caution in changing ties over concerns that the nation would not be able to hold firm against Beijing’s interests.

China is offering to bankroll a development fund for the Solomon Islands to help with a transition away from Taiwan, which provides an annual US$8.5 million contribution to the island nation.

Solomon Islands lawmaker John Moffat Fugui, head of the task force evaluating diplomatic ties, on Wednesday said that Beijing would pay into a fund, even though it usually prefers “grants, concessionary loans and sometimes gifts.”

“But for you, we will give you a [rural constituency development fund] for a certain period,” Fugui said, referring to negotiations with Beijing.

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