The prospect of China as a development partner is being received positively across parts of the Solomon Islands, despite global media reports largely condemning the government’s moves towards the superpower.
Many people in the township of Gizo, the capital of the Western Province, spoken to by The Pacific Advocate, believe China should be given a fair chance to help the Solomon Islands without political conditions.
Many Solomon Islanders want economic growth and some believe that China could provide that pathway even though the diplomatic relationship with the Pacific nation is just over two years old, in contrast to the decades of cooperation with Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
The Pacific Advocate reached out to business owners, the municipal authority, a former public servant who is now a traditional leader and a representative of ordinary people of Western Province living in Gizo, to get their views on China’s increasing influence in the Solomon Islands.
Unlike the negative sentiments portrayed in other provinces, the majority of feedback was that China should be given a chance to help the country.
Former public servant Freedom Tozaka said Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America had more than 30 years to prove themselves as development partners but even despite their efforts the Solomon Islands was struggling economically.
“I acknowledge our traditional partners for supporting our country to this day, but it’s disappointing to see our country has never developed,” Mr Tozaka said.
He said China and Solomon Islands diplomatic relationship started three years ago and development activities were already taking shape through Chinese support.
Mr Tozaka said China is a powerful country and it was good for the Solomon Islands to seek export opportunities for untapped resources in the nation.
“China is opening up its market and this is a good news for our country. China is also giving export exceptions which is (more) good news for Solomon Islands,” he said.
“If we are to look at our current trade activities with our traditional partners, the ratio between export and import is unstable. Take a look at our export to Australia, we have very small export activity while we have substantial import activities, which is very bad for our country.
“One might say that Australia is contributing to the country’s economy through the Seasonal Worker Scheme, but I for one see this as another modern day slavery. Why not invest on development that would provide employment opportunities in Solomon Islands? Most locals went to work on Australian farms because there was no employment opportunity in the Solomon Islands. Economically, Australia is benefiting from taxes and export of these agricultural products.
“All I’m saying is; I want us to give China a chance to prove its worth for our country.”
Local business owner in Gizo, Jacob Kwan said all he wants to see is economic developments that would drive the country’s economy forward.
He said leaders must be ready to strike a better deal with China to bring development to people in rural areas.
“I don’t care whether an investor is from China, Australia, New Zealand or United States, all I want for my people is development and whoever is willing to help my country with good and willing heart is welcome,” Mr Kwan said.
“But first, leaders must do away with self-serving attitudes and prioritise what is good for the people of Solomon Islands.
“Corruption hinders economic development and our leaders must stop riding on people’s shoulders for self-benefits.
“I have blood connection to China but I don’t want to see the government and China toying with my people. Leaders must represent their people as they are the decision makers.”
He said there was land available for development but all processes must be followed, and there should be no ‘shortcuts’.
Moffat Maeta, Manager of Gizo Municipal Authority shared similar sentiments saying rural people want development that encourages economic activities.
“Different individuals have their own view depending on their interest. But for me, looking backwards since independence, our province (Western) is not moving forward in terms of development,” Mr Maeta said.
“So, if you are to follow that trench, we will remain as we are today for the next 40 years or so. I believe China will help us and I want China to invest and develop infrastructure in order to encourage local development.
“We have huge potential with an educated population….waiting to support development undertakings and opportunities. We cannot do it ourselves because of the financial situation (in) our country. We need other countries which are willing to help us.”
On the issue of China’s debt trap practices, Mr Maeta said such decisions needed to made wisely and with open eyes.
A traditional leader in Gizo, Joseph Hile, said Solomon Islands traditional partners have done very little to develop the nation.
“The system where other developed countries are riding on our backs for our resources must be changed,” Mr Hile said.
“Solomon Islands as a country has had enough and I think it’s time to give China the opportunity to help us,” the 64 year old said.