Solomon Islands violence reduced but not underlying tension

The external pressure was a “very large … impact”. I don’t want to be named. We will leave it there,” Sogaware said.

Rioters, robbers and protesters in Honiara’s Chinatown and its downtown area demanded the resignation of Sogaware, who has been prime minister intermittently since 2000.

Sogaware has been widely criticized by the leaders of the country’s most populous island of Malaita for its 2019 decision to drop diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of mainland China. Her government, meanwhile, is upset with millions in US aid given directly to Malaita rather than the central government.

Jonathan Pryke, director of the Sydney-based Lowy Institute think tank’s Pacific Islands Program, said the issues are the latest in a decades-long rivalry between Malaita and Guadalcanal, where the capital Honiara is located.

“Most of the drivers of tension have been in the country for many decades and generations, and much of it stems from the country’s abject poverty, limited economic development opportunities, and inter-ethnic and inter-island rivalry between the two most populous islands. ,” They said.

“So everyone is pointing fingers, but some fingers also need to be pointed at the political leaders of the Solomon Islands.”

The Solomon Islands, with a population of about 700,000, are located approximately 1,500 kilometers (1,000 mi) northeast of Australia. Internationally they are probably still best known for the bloody battles that took place during World War II between the United States and Japan.

Peaceful protests in Honiara led to riots and looting on Wednesday, mainly by people from Malaita, over a number of grievances. Police fired tear gas and fired rubber bullets at the protesters, who set fire to the national parliament, a police station and several other buildings.

The protesters violated the lockdown announced by Sogaware on Wednesday to hit the streets again on Thursday.

Critics also attributed the unrest to a lack of government services and accountability, corruption and complaints from Chinese businesses employing foreigners instead of locals.

Beijing has been expected to make massive infrastructure investments since the shift from Taiwan to China in 2019 – rumored to be in the range of $500 million locally – but the shift was soon followed by COVID-19. With the outbreak of the pandemic, none of this that has materialized so far.

Malaita threatened to hold a referendum on independence on the issue, but Sogaware’s government rejected it.

Sogaware said on Friday that he stood by his government’s decision to embrace Beijing, which he described as “the only issue” in the violence, which was “unfortunately influenced and encouraged by other powers.”

“I am not going to bow down to anyone. We are intact, the government is intact and we are going to defend democracy.”

However, over wider geopolitical concerns, Pryke said the demonstrations were actually boiling down to a lack of opportunities for a largely youthful population and frustration over the concentration of much of the country’s wealth in the capital.

“I guarantee you that most of the people involved in the riots and looting could not point to China or Taiwan on the map,” he said. “They were there as opportunists because they had very limited economic opportunities. This is a very poor country with high youth unemployment, and it shows how quickly these things can get out of control in an unstable country.”

A plane carrying Australian police and diplomats arrived in Honiara late Thursday to help local police restore order.

43 Defense Force personnel were due to arrive on Friday, along with more than 50 Australian police as well as a Navy patrol boat.

They were requested by Sogaware under a bilateral treaty with Australia, and the presence of an independent force, though small, helped to suppress some of the violence.

Australia has a history of aiding the Solomon Islands, having stepped down in 2003 following bloody ethnic violence known as “tensions”. Australian-led international police and military forces helped restore peace to the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands and left. in 2017.

Australian personnel are expected to be on hand for “just a few weeks”, according to Australian Foreign Minister Maris Payne.

Payne told reporters on Friday that he had no indication that other countries had sparked the unrest.

“We haven’t indicated that at all,” Payne said.

Australia is not assisting with the security of the national parliament and executive buildings, in a sign that it is not taking political sides.

“We’ve been very clear. Our view is that we don’t want to see violence,” Payne said. “We would very much expect stability to return.”

Local journalist Gina Kekia said the foreign policy switch in Beijing with little public consultation was one of a mix of issues that led to the protests. There were also complaints that foreign companies were not providing local jobs.

“Chinese businesses and (other) Asian businesses … do most of the work, especially when it comes to extracting resources, which people feel strongly about,” Kekia said.

Kekia said protesters in Chinatown were replaced by robbers and scavengers on Friday.

“It’s been two days, two full days of looting and protests and riots and Honiara is just a small town,” Kekea said. The capital has 85,000 residents.

“So I guess now they have nothing left to rob and spoil,” she said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison questioned whether Chinese citizens and businesses were being targeted. He described the unrest as “a bit of a mixed story” and noted that Chinatown was the scene of riots prior to Australia’s 2003 intervention.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Friday condemned the violence and emphasized Beijing’s support for the Solomon Islands government. He said that China is taking steps to protect the safety and rights of the Chinese people and institutions in the country.

“We believe that under the leadership of Prime Minister Sogaware, the Solomon government can restore order and stabilize the internal situation as soon as possible,” he said.

The establishment of diplomatic ties with Beijing has won the “sincere support of the people,” Zhao said, and “any attempt to undermine the normal development of China-Solomon relations is in vain.”


Rising was reported from Bangkok.


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