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Solomons say no decision yet in Taiwan-China debate

Solomons say no decision yet in Taiwan-China debate

File photo of the Taiwan flag in the foreground. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

HONIARA: The Solomon Islands said Friday (Sep 6) that no decision had yet been made on switching the Pacific island nation's diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China.

The Solomons are among only 17 nations to recognise Taiwan, but Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare vowed to review the relationship after he was elected in April.

A switch would reduce the number of nations backing Taiwan - which Beijing regards as a renegade province - as well as boosting China's influence among the strategically important Pacific isles.

READ: Taiwan warns Solomon Islands of China 'debt trap' in diplomatic switch

READ: Beijing offers development fund if Solomon Islands breaks ties with Taiwan

For the Solomons, where less than half the population has access to electricity, the debate offers a chance to weigh up promises of aid from Taipei and Beijing.

Government frontbencher Peter Shanel Agovaka, who led a recent ministerial delegation to Beijing to discuss the issue, told a parliamentary committee this week that his preference was to recognise China.

"We cannot sit for the next 40 years with our friends Taiwan, it is time that we make new friends," he said, arguing links with China would help boost the Pacific nation's economy.

The Solomon Islands' foreign affairs department said no decision had been made and the issue would not be finalised until the cabinet had reviewed a task force report.

"As far as can be determined, the Office of Prime Minister has not announced when it is likely to make a decision on whether or not the government agrees to switch diplomatic ties to China or remain with Taiwan," the department said in a statement issued to media in Taiwan on Friday.

The Solomons parliament's foreign relations committee is accepting submissions on the Taiwan-China issue until the end of this month and has an Oct 31 deadline to report to the legislature.

Nations such as Australia and the United States fear Beijing's interest is fuelled by a long-term goal to establish a military base in the islands, offering control of vast swathes of the Pacific Ocean.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper last month accused China of destabilising the region using such tactics, citing "predatory economics and debt-for-sovereignty deals".

However, China's ambassador to Samoa Chao Xiaoliang has labelled critics "ignorant" and "prejudiced", saying Beijing's main interest is forming partnerships to help Pacific nations.

Source: AFP/nr


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