Taiwan yesterday again denied charges that it was involved in buying influence in the disputed election which sparked riots in the Solomon Islands this week.
The announcement on Tuesday that former Solomon Islands deputy prime minister Snyder Rini had been elected prime minister led to the burning and looting of Chinese homes and businesses by mobs who rampaged through the capital Honiara.
"We would like to categorically deny that we provide any money to any political leaders in that country," said Gary Lin (林松煥), head of the economic and cultural development office that represents Taiwan in the Australian capital, Canberra.
He was responding to comments made by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who linked the riots to the ongoing power struggle between Taiwan and China for diplomatic influence across the Pacific.
"Some people have decided to take to the streets, particularly focusing on the Chinese community, because they believe that Snyder Rini has been supported by the Chinese," Downer said.
"Not just ethnic Chinese on the Solomon Islands but by the Taiwanese as well -- the Solomon Islands having diplomatic relations with Taiwan," he said.
"I have noted some of the allegations but I must point out that Taiwan is not involved in any way in the election of the prime minister of the Solomon Islands," Lin said in a statement.
"The instability of the Solomon Islands is deep-rooted. It is not Taiwan's fault," he said.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Wednesday night obliquely blamed Taiwan for the checkbook politics that protesters say skewed the vote Rini's way.
"We should remember that there are countries other than countries that are geographically part of the region which have an interest in involving themselves and gathering allies and partners in the region, not necessarily with the longer-term interests of the region at heart," Howard said.
The sentiment from Canberra appeared to be non-partisan, with the opposition Labor Party adding to accusations that Taipei was manipulating the politics of its South Pacific ally.
"I think one of the concerns is Taiwanese aid directly to the Solomon Islands government. And of course, unlike Australia, the Solomon Islands has diplomatic relations with Taipei rather than with Beijing," said Bob Sercombe, opposition Labor Party spokesman for Pacific Island Affairs, as quoted on the Australian Broadcasting Corp's radio program The World Today yesterday.
"I think the area that's of more concern is probably not any direct support to the Solomon Islands government, it is concerns about claims that the Taiwanese make payments directly to individual members of parliament for use as some sort of election slush fund and concerns about the accountabilities for those funds and whether there are any strings attached," he said.
Sercombe did not return a call by the Taipei Times to his office on the basis for his allegations.
In Taipei, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Michel Lu (呂慶龍) repeated yesterday that Taiwan was not involved in unrest surrounding the Solomon Islands' elections, and "we will find out why Taiwan is rumored to have been involved."
Lu said there are only two Taiwanese shops in the Solomon Islands, one is a restaurant and the other a vehicle repair shop.
"Neither shop is located in Chinatown and neither was affected by the wave of riots that targeted the local Chinese. This fact should tell people whether Taiwan is involved or not," Lu told the Taipei Times yesterday.
Responding to Howard's accusation, Lu said that Taiwan's aid to the Solomon Islands is for projects aimed at improving local living standards in a sustainable way.
"Australia and New Zealand are important regional partners in the Oceania area. Taiwan's aid to the Solomon Islands is actually helping to share the international burden [for these developing countries]," Lu said.
Additional reporting by Chang Yun-ping
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