Police yesterday maintained a strong presence on the streets of Honiara, but reported no unrest following the Solomon Islands’ decision to switch diplomatic allegiance to China from Taiwan.
The move, revealed late on Monday when officials in Taipei pre-emptively severed ties, prompted a peaceful pro-Taiwan protest on the island of Malaita.
In Honiara, a group of bystanders — some waving Republic of China flags — watched as Taipei’s embassy lowered its flag for the final time.
Photo: Reuters / Youths Online Campaign For Change Solomon Islands
The issue has stirred passionate debate in a nation long mired in corruption, with many viewing diplomatic maneuvering as an attempt by the political elite to feather their own nests.
Honiara’s Chinatown has borne the brunt of mob violence in the past, most recently when Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was elected in April.
Its prosperous Chinese population has long been a target for lingering resentment, exacerbated by increasing numbers of more recent migrants who locals feel are taking a stranglehold on the capital’s economy.
Chinese-owned shops were largely closed yesterday as news sank in that 36 years of diplomatic ties with Taiwan had ended.
Police said that they had extra officers on patrol to keep the peace and meetings were under way with community groups.
“We’re reminding people not to take the law into their own hands and reminding them what’s happened in the past when protests have happened,” a police spokesman said.
As well as closing its embassy, Taipei is also to scrap aid programs focused on agriculture and health, while the Solomon Star Times reported that 125 students on scholarships in Taiwan would have to return home.
“It is indeed regrettable that their unfinished cooperative projects must come to an end, and it is a loss for Solomon Islands people,” President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said in a statement that expressed “strong regret and condemnation” over the decision.
The Solomon Islands government has not made any official statement on its decision and Sogavare canceled a planned news conference yesterday, citing a busy schedule.
Solomon Islands lawmaker John Moffat Fugui, who headed a task force that examined the issue, last week said that Sogavare wants to formally announce the change to the UN General Assembly meeting in New York later this month.
Former Australian high commissioner to the Solomons James Batley said it was not a foregone conclusion that other Taiwanese allies would follow Honiara’s lead.
“I don’t think any of the Solomon Islands’ neighbors, and that includes Australia, will really be surprised by this decision,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “I don’t necessarily think that ... it marks the beginning of a snowball effect, but there’s no doubt the Solomon Islands is a big prize for China.”
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