Solomon Islands minister to visit Taiwan as China diplomatic battle heats up

Solomon Islands minister to visit Taiwan as China diplomatic battle heats up

Relations between Beijing and Taipei have plummeted since President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in
Relations between Beijing and Taipei have plummeted since President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in 2016 AFP/Sam YEH

TAIPEI: The Solomon Islands' top diplomat is set to arrive in Taiwan on Sunday (Sep 8), Taipei's foreign ministry said, as the Pacific nation mulls switching its diplomatic allegiance to China.

In a statement on Saturday, Taipei said Solomons foreign minister Jeremiah Manele will meet Taiwan's Pesident Tsai Ing-wen and his Taiwanese counterpart Joseph Wu during a five-day visit.

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 as well as boost China's influence among the strategically important Pacific islands.

Taiwan is a democratic self-ruled island but Beijing regards it as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

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.

Solomon Islands President Manasseh Sogavare (R) and Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen (L) inspect
Solomon Islands President Manasseh Sogavare (R) and Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen (L) inspect an honour guard during a welcome ceremony in Taipei on Sep 26, 2017. (Photo: AFP/Sam Yeh)

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 has said no decision had been made and the issue would not be finalised until the cabinet had reviewed a task force report.

The Solomons' parliamentary 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 including 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 areas 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.

Relations between Beijing and Taipei have plummeted since Tsai came to power in 2016 because her party refuses to recognise the idea that Taiwan is part of "one China".

Source: AFP/ec

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