Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) yesterday reiterated the government’s call for the Solomon Islands to keep its diplomatic assessment open and transparent after Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said that Taiwan’s economy and politics are “completely useless.”
The Pacific Island nation sent officials to Beijing last month as part an assessment of its foreign relations following a general election in April.
The Australian on Wednesday quoted Sogavare as saying that China would provide stronger support without deferring to Australian pressure.
Photo: Lu Yi-hsuan, Taipei Times
“I sent 40 police officers to go and train in Taiwan and you know what Australia did? The foreign affairs minister himself went to Taiwan and says: ‘Stop the training, that area is ours,’” Sogavare was quoted as saying.
“To be honest, when it comes to economics and politics, Taiwan is completely useless to us,” he said, adding that China “did not give a damn” about then-Australian minister for foreign affairs Alexander Downer.
Sogavare’s remarks are viewed as a stronger signal of souring ties, even though a delegation led by Solomon Islands Minister of Foreign Affairs Jeremiah Manele met with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) during a five-day visit to Taiwan that ended yesterday.
Sogavare and Manele on Aug. 16 met with Wu at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu and signed a bilateral visa-waiver program.
Asked to comment on the issue at a regular news conference yesterday, Ou said Sogavare’s remarks did not reflect the overall picture of Taipei-Honiara ties.
Taiwan solemnly calls on the Solomon Islands government to keep its diplomatic assessment open and transparent, and take into account the “majority” of Solomon Islanders across all of society, she said.
Since the two nations established formal diplomatic relations in 1983, Taiwan has made significant contributions to Honiara’s development, while it did not forsake its ally when it faced political turbulence in 2000, she said.
The Solomon Islands has constantly voiced its support for Taiwan on the global stage, she added.
If a few politicians in Honiara push for a diplomatic switch based on the interests of individuals or groups, the outcome would not serve the welfare of all Solomon Islanders, nor be welcomed by nations that defend democracy, the rule of law and human rights, Ou said.
Taipei’s communication channels with its ally remain unimpeded and it would spare no efforts to maintain a bilateral friendship, she added.
US officials involved in Pacific affairs have warned the Solomon Islands to be wary of Chinese promises of funding and not to be pressed into cutting ties with Taiwan, in comments highlighting increasing competition for influence in the South Pacific.
The warnings were made this week in Honiara in comments to reporters after several of the nation’s senior lawmakers said that they wanted to switch diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing.
The South Pacific is a diplomatic stronghold for Taiwan, which has six island nation allies, more than one-third of all the nations that recognize Taiwan.
The ties are said to have helped stem China’s expansionary policies in the region.
US Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu Catherine Ebert-Gray said the decision the Solomons Islands faces is tough and “very, very important.”
“We want to encourage the prime minister and all the people of Solomon Islands and members of parliament to not feel pressured in making this decision, to ask for details about funding, about projects, whether these are loans or they’re grants,” Ebert-Gray said.
The US has criticized China for pushing poor countries into debt, mainly through lending for large-scale infrastructure projects, and accused China of using “predatory economics” to destabilize the Indo-Pacific region.
China denies that.
“When we come into a country, we look at how we can partner through a grant system — we don’t do loans,” Ann Marie Yastishock, the US Agency for International Development’s deputy assistant administrator for Asia, told the gathering in Honiara.
The US has traditionally left diplomacy in the South Pacific to its regional partners, including Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
US officials said they had also met senior Solomon Islands lawmakers, including Sogavare.
Anti-graft agency Transparency Solomon Islands has also urged caution in changing ties over concerns that Honiara would not be able to hold firm against Beijing’s interests, given the nation’s lack of suitable governance structures.
The Republic of China embassy in Honiara on Wednesday said that its presence had been a force for good.
“Many countries in the Pacific, including the Solomon Islands, are proud to be free and democratic,” it said.
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