Solomon Islands

China’s huge Pacific move

China is sending police advisors and riot gear to the Solomon Islands, a day after foreign peacekeepers deployed during deadly protests last month began leaving the Pacific nation.

The crisis in the island chain of 800,000 people erupted in November when protesters tried to storm parliament and then went on a three-day rampage, torching much of the capital Honiara’s Chinatown.

The protests were sparked by opposition to veteran Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and partly fuelled by poverty, unemployment and inter-island rivalries.

But a subplot to the unrest was Sogavare’s efforts to forge closer ties with Beijing after abruptly breaking off the island’s long-time ties with Taiwan in 2019.

China baulks at any official exchanges between other countries and self-ruled Taiwan, which it sees as its own territory awaiting reunification.

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Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Beijing would “urgently provide” support “at the request of the Solomon Islands government”, adding that the materials and personnel would arrive “in the near future”.

In a statement, the Solomons government said it had accepted Beijing’s offer of six “liaison officers” to train its police force and equipment including shields, helmets, batons and other “non-lethal” gear.

china solomon islands riots
Buildings burning around Honiara, Solomon Islands during the rioting in November. Pictures: Twitter

The government said the support will help the islands’ police confront future threats, adding that it “will always stand firm to ensure that our peace and tranquillity as a nation is maintained”.

“China firmly supports the Solomon Islands government’s efforts to maintain domestic stability”, Zhao said at a Thursday press conference.

Beijing “firmly safeguards” the rights of Chinese citizens in the Solomon Islands and “strongly condemns all illegal acts of violence”, he said.

Zhao added that the supplies will “play a constructive role in enhancing the capacities of the Solomon Islands police forces”.

In recent years China has stepped up pressure to isolate Taiwan internationally, getting eight nations to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing since 2016.

Last week, Solomons’ police charged a leading member of the opposition over the riots, though allies called the move politically motivated.

One group of the over 200 international peacekeepers deployed to maintain calm in Honiara has now begun to return home, Australia said Wednesday.

© Agence France-Presse

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