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Here is what lies behind the violent protests in the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara




Australian federal government ministers will meet this afternoon to discuss the growing unrest in the Solomon Islands, in a clear signal that the Pacific island country is considering seeking help from Australia to quell violent protests in the capital Honiara.

Yesterday police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse large crowds demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

It is not yet clear whether the Solomon Islands have yet to make a formal request for assistance, but ABC has been told that both governments have been in close discussions over the past 24 hours.

The issue will be discussed at an urgent meeting of the Cabinet National Security Committee in the afternoon.

Mr Sogavare announced a 36-hour blockade of Honiara following yesterday’s violent protests, in which buildings were set on fire, including the police station and a leafy hut near the Parliament House.

New protests erupted today in the capital, with smoke seen from the Chinese neighborhood of Honiara.

a crowd of people gather outside the gates of the House of Parliament in Honiara
Large crowds gathered outside the national parliament in Honiara.(ABC News: Evan Wasuka)

What started as a peaceful protest by people mostly from Malaita province turned violent on Wednesday, while a crowd of about 1000 people was disturbed.

Policia hodhi gaz lotsjellës dhe plumba gome për të shpërndarë turmën, ndërsa ndërtesat u gjuajtën me gurë dhe të tjera u shpërthyen në flakë.

Sogavare said it was a “sad and unfortunate event aimed at toppling a democratically elected government”.

So what has sparked the civil unrest and what do China and Taiwan have to do with it?

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare addresses the UN General Assembly in New York.
Observers say Manasseh Sogavare is unlikely to resign.(Reuters: Eduardo Munoz)

How are China and Taiwan included?

At the center of a deepening rift between the central government and Malaita province, the most populous island in the Solomon Islands archipelago is, somewhat surprisingly, foreign policy.

The Solomon Islands had previously been in a handful of countries with diplomatic ties to Taipei rather than Beijing, a significant portion of which are in the South Pacific.

But in September 2019, Mr. Sogavare established official diplomatic ties with China.

ABC reported at the time that about $ 500 million ($ 730 million) in financial aid had been promised by Beijing to the Solomons, one of the poorest nations in the Pacific in exchange for the move.

This led Taiwan to sever its diplomatic relations with the Solomon Islands after 36 years.

“We are sincerely sorry and strongly condemn him [the Solomon Islands] “The government’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with China,” said then-Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.


Malaita provincial prime minister Daniel Suidani has been outspoken in his opposition to the national government’s decision to move to China, and South Pacific geopolitical researcher Ed Cavanough said there was evidence the relationship between the province and Taiwan remained in shape. .

Taiwan provided assistance to COVID-19 as personal protective equipment and food aid to Malaita, which MrCavanough said was in violation of national law in the Solomon Islands.

Mr. Suidani also traveled to Taiwan in May 2021 for medical treatment.

Why did this cause a rift in Solomon politics?

Sogavare said the decision to formalize ties with China is putting the Solomon Islands on the “right side of history”.

But not everyone agreed, with opposition politicians sharply criticizing the move.

In August 2019, a group of senior politicians published an open letter condemning the change in relations.

“We believe that the long-term interests of our country in terms of our development aspirations, as well as respect for democratic principles, human rights, rule of law, human dignity and mutual respect belong to Taiwan, not the PRC. [People’s Republic of China]”, Read.

He also warned that establishing ties with Beijing could see land rights, the rule of law and cultural heritage in the Solomon Islands “compromised”.

“We are aware of important lessons from many countries, including our region, who have been trapped in a serious debt trap as a result of their surrender to the temptations of China.”

Sweden has continued to oppose the decision, which Mr Cavanough said served him to boost “extraordinary” political popularity in Malaita province.

“We are against the communist ideology and investments of the PRC,” he was quoted as saying. The Swede from the Solomon Times newspaper said in May last year.

Could we have foreseen violent protests?

Wednesday’s protests seemed to come as a surprise, despite acknowledging the build-up of tensions.

Crowds of people gather near a police station in Honiara
Protesters have opposed the curfew to take to the streets again.(Reuters)

Maverick Peter Seda is a student on the South Pacific University Honiara campus who clashed with protesters on his way home.

He was told that the ABC people were “shocked” and “upset” by the protests and the ensuing blockade.

“Angry young people have just had enough,” he said.

Peter Kenilorea Jr., the son of the Solomon Islands’s first prime minister and an opposition lawmaker, warned last month that the country’s foreign policy was being “overtaken” by China and that disputes over Beijing’s influence could lead to violence.


“Things are not built very clearly in the Solomon Islands, things explode suddenly,” he said in an interview with the Sunday Guardian, an Indian newspaper.

“The analogy I think is most appropriate is that we in the Pacific Islands say we are on the front line of climate change here in Solomon, we are also on the front line of aggression by the Chinese Communist Party.

“The political war is going on. The geopolitical front line is in our small nation of the Solomon Islands, even within the provinces within the Solomon Islands.

“We have a province (Malaita) that has been targeted and harassed this is a real daily occurrence,” he said.

Has such a thing happened before?


Australia deployed a peacekeeping mission known as the Solomon Islands Regional Assistance Mission (RAMSI) in 2003 after years of ethnic tensions and violence between militias from the islands of Guadalcanal and Malaita.

A burnt pile of guns with men in army uniforms watching.
RAMSI saw Australian soldiers assist in disarming militia groups as part of an amnesty program.(Supplied: DFAT)

Honiara has also seen violent demonstrations targeting ethnic Chinese-owned businesses in the past.

In 2006, following the election of then-Prime Minister Snyder Rini, rebels looted and burned Chinese-owned businesses over allegations that the election was rigged with the financial help of Chinese businessmen.

Many Chinese residents were left homeless and riots led to the deployment of Australian and New Zealand soldiers to help restore order.

Riots erupted again after the current prime minister, Mr. Sogavare, was elected for the fourth time in 2019, with police using tear gas to disperse crowds in the city’s Chinese quarter.

A crowd of protesters on the newly opened bridge of the Chinese city of Honiara.
Honiara has been the site of violent protests in the past.(Supplied: Danzo Photography)

“I honestly thought we had gone through the darkest days in our country ‘s history,” Mr Sogavare said in response to Wednesday’ s riots.

“Today’s events are a painful reminder that we have a long way to go.”

Will Sogavare leave?

Most do not think so.

Cavanough said he believed it was “very impossible” for Mr Sogavare to step down.

“He was democratically elected through their process in 2019,” he said.

“Although the change in China, which has led to many tensions, came as a surprise, it has long been on the record being really against the partnership with Taiwan.

“It did not come as a complete surprise.”

Mr Cavanough said the only natural solution to the ongoing dispute between Mr Sogavare and Mr Suidani would be elections.

“The next election is also not until 2023, so the reality is that the country will remain stuck in dynamics for quite some time.”

What is likely to happen next?

Papua New Guinea’s neighboring Prime Minister James Marape has called on the people of the Solomon Islands to “respect the rule of law and democratic institutions”, urging them “not to take the law into their own hands”.

“The Solomon Islands have always been a beacon of hope for us in Malaysia and a middle ground for many of our Pacific and Melanesian issues, so I call for peaceful democratic dialogue on any issue of discontent,” Mr Marape said.

But those on the ground say there is likely to be more unrest before the dust settles.

Crowds are seen in the streets of Honiara as smoke billows from a distance
Violent protests have entered Honiara for the second day.(Reuters: Georgina Kekea)

Local journalist Gina Kekea said that while the protests took her by surprise in Honiara, she believes “the worst is yet to come”.

Seda said the “biggest fear” of Honiara residents was the continuation of the violence.

Police said they would “continue to conduct high-visibility patrols throughout Honiara day and night to ensure that those planning to disrupt the peace that continues to dominate our communities have a chance to carry out their activities.” criminal “.

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