15.02.2023 Author: Brian Berletic

The Solomon Islands and the US-China Pacific Balance of Power

The Solomon Islands, located east of Papua New Guinea and northeast of Australia, has become a battleground for Washington and its desire to maintain primacy over the Asia-Pacific region.

Recent developments in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, indicate that Washington’s influence faces serious challenges. These developments also expose the true nature of Washington’s influence in the Solomon Islands and go far in explaining Honiara’s actions to limit and roll back that influence.

Washington’s Oceania Chess Piece 

Prior to 2019, the Solomon Islands was among the small and ever-shrinking number of nations that recognized the Republic of China in Taipei, Taiwan as the sole legitimate government of all of China.

In 2019 when Honiara changed its position, recognizing the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing in an interview with New China TV,  Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare would explain:

We believe this is the right decision, it’s the correct decision to make and we’re just moving forward seeing China as a very, very important economic power in the world and all sensible leaders in the world must acknowledge the existence of China and relate to it in a meaningful way like we do now.

Prior to 2019, it was very clear that the United States used a combination of bribery and coercion to steer nations like the Solomon Islands away from adopting a “One China” policy, thus preventing these nations from engaging constructively with China itself.

This bribery and coercion began to surface even across the Western media.

The Diplomat in a 2020 article titled, “US Aid Pledge to Pro-Taiwan Solomon Islands Province Raises Eyebrows,” would point out:

The United States has pledged $25 million in aid to the Solomon Islands province of Malaita, which has in recent weeks made calls for secession from the national government over its relationship with China.

Malaita, the largest province in the Solomon Islands, announced its plan to hold a referendum on independence last month, citing the central government’s switch in diplomatic relations with Taiwan to China last year. The decision has put Malaita at odds with the rest of the country, as Malaita preferred to continue relations with Taiwan.

 The article also pointed out:

Some observers viewed the announcement as the United States supporting an anti-China movement in the Solomon Islands, as part of a wider resistance to growing Chinese influence in the Pacific region.

The anti-China rhetoric emanating from Malaita originated from the province’s premier, Daniel Suidani who was directly involved in receiving the USAID money and was even photographed wearing a red USAID polo shirt on occasion. Both Suidani and an organization called “Malaita for Democracy” (M4D) actively protested against Honiara’s decision to recognize the PRC.

Just as Suidani was working with USAID to transform Malaita into a bastion of US interests, M4D was working with the US government via National Endowment for Democracy (NED) subsidiary, the International Republican Institute (IRI) as early as 2020.

A January 2020 article in the Solomon Star titled, “US-based institute consults with M4D,” would report:

Malaita for Democracy (M4D) movement on behalf of the Malaita people on Wednesday met a team from the International Republican Institute (IRI) based in Washington DC in Auki, Malaita Province. The IRI team is visiting Auki as part of a consultation to gather the views of the provincial government, churches and other civil society groups within the province. The purpose of the visit and consultation is to pave a way forward in engagement with the US government and its partners. Some of the areas covered during this discussion are; engagements of IRI within Malaita, how IRI can contribute in the development of the structures of the province, governance and leadership.

The US government’s IRI interfering in the internal political affairs of both Malaita specifically and the Solomon Islands in a broader sense constitutes the sort of foreign meddling in reality that Washington and its allies accuse Beijing of in fiction.

The true nature of the IRI-M4D meeting was to prepare the group to advocate for pro-Washington policies including continued support for the ROC in Taiwan versus the PRC in Beijing. Just as the US has sponsored groups to stir up violence across the Arab World from 2011 onward or Kiev from 2014 onward, the US-supported M4D would actually attempt to coerce the Solomon Islands’ national government into shifting its policy toward China through the use of organized violence.

This culminated in targeted violence in the capital of Honiara itself in 2021. Reuters in its November 2021 article, “Explainer: -What is behind unrest in the Solomon Islands?,” would explain:

The violence began after protesters from a group called Malaita for Democracy travelled to Honiara, the Solomon Islands’ capital in Guadalcanal province, and gathered outside parliament. They called for Sogavare to address them on Nov. 24. 

Witnesses said rioting erupted after Sogavare failed to meet them. Much of Honiara’s Chinatown area was destroyed during the unrest that followed, involving young men from Honiara’s outskirt settlements which have no running water.

Following the deadly and destructive violence, Suidani reiterated his intentions to pursue separatism for Malaita.

The next month following the violence, Suidani would address M4D directly. In a December 2021 Solomon Times article, “Premier Suidani Calls for Self-Autonomy for Malaita,” it was reported that:

Premier of Malaita Province Daniel Suidani has made a public call for self-autonomy.

Premier Suidani spoke to a crowd that gathered in Auki to listen to the motion of no confidence being debated in Parlaiment today.

The Premier said regardless of the outcome the provincial government has consulted with the Malaita for Democracy and Development (M4D) and have agreed that they will call for self-autonomy following an assessment by the UN Security Council.

Just as the US had done elsewhere, it was clear that in the Solomon Islands Washington was cultivating an opposition politician, Suidani, and supporting a violent street movement, M4D, to either coerce the central government to pursue US interests, or overthrow it and replace it with a government that would.

The Solomon Islands Fights Back 

Following deadly violence in the capital of Honiara carried out by US-sponsored M4D on behalf of US proxy Daniel Suidani, the premier of Malaita, the Solomon Islands requested security assistance from China.

This included a security agreement with China as well as training and equipment for the Solomon Islands’ police force.

The Guardian in a June 2022 article titled, “We needed China deal to protect ‘domestic security’, says key Solomon Islands official,” would report:

The controversial security deal struck between Solomon Islands and China that caught the western world off guard was needed to maintain internal security and help fight climate change, a leading Solomon Islands official has said, defending his country’s right to choose its allies. 

Speaking to the Guardian in his first interview since the deal between China and Solomon Islands was leaked, Collin Beck, the permanent secretary of foreign affairs and a senior figure in the Solomons government, also said Australia should question whether it had been “fair” to Solomon Islands in its intense scrutiny of the deal.

Indeed, both the United States and Australia had not been fair to the Solomon Islands. The greatest security threats the Solomon Islands faced then and still faces today are the product of Western meddling as illustrated by the US government’s support of M4D which carried out violence in Honiara in 2021.

The Solomon Islands has also begun uprooting foreign interference from within its information space including its national broadcaster now under stricter control of Honiara.

The Guardian in an August 2022 article, “Outrage as Solomon Islands government orders vetting of stories on national broadcaster,” would complain:

The Solomon Islands’ government has prompted outrage by ordering the censorship of the national broadcaster, forbidding it from publishing material critical of the government, which will vet all stories before broadcast.

The Guardian also noted:

The restrictions follow what the prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, has called biased reporting and news causing disunity.

Just as the US has done elsewhere, in addition to compromising opposition politicians and organizing violent street movements, the US also invests huge sums of money in manipulating public sentiment through control of local media. The Guardian and Western “rights groups” are merely complaining about the Solomon Islands uprooting this foreign influence from within its information space.

More recently, the Solomon Islands has finally removed Daniel Suidani from power. The Daily Caller in a February 2023 article titled,” Solomon Islands Ousts Provincial Governor Who Objected To Chinese Encroachment,” would report:

A provincial governor in the Solomon Islands has been ousted by his legislature for criticizing the country’s growing relationship with China. 

The legislature removed [Daniel] Suidani, premier of Solomon Islands’ Malaita province, in an unanimous no-confidence vote Tuesday, Reuters reported. Suidani banned Chinese companies from operating in Malaita and fostered a close relationship with Taiwan, a former ally of the Solomon Islands.

The article also noted:

Protests broke out after the no-confidence vote and led to protesters throwing stones at police officers. Police responded with tear gas and one officer was injured. The protests fizzled out and were not widespread, The Guardian reported.

This was almost certainly referring to members of M4D whose violence was pushed off the streets thanks to a police force benefiting from training and equipment made available through the nation’s new and growing relationship with China.

Progress But with Great Danger 

The Solomon Islands has undertaken the difficult and dangerous process of reasserting its sovereignty over its own territory, political system, and information space. This has been made possible through its growing relationship with China which, according to Harvard University’s Atlas of Economic Complexity, is the Solomon Islands’ largest trade partner by far in terms of both imports and exports.

The Solomon Islands is providing an example and setting a precedent for the rest of Asia-Pacific to follow in regaining sovereignty over US meddling socio-politically, economically, and even militarily. Washington is well aware of regional discontent far outside the halls of power in Honiara and realizes that the Solomon Islands’ success will encourage other nations across Asia-Pacific to likewise challenge, uproot, and oust completely unwanted interference from the US and its allies.

Because of this, the US is likely prepared to make an example out of Honiara and the Solomon Islands as a whole. It is a chess piece for Washington that may seem “small” at face value, but its loss will be indicative of American weakness on a much larger scale.

Thus, as the Solomon Islands is correcting generations of injustice and infringement on its sovereignty, this success aided by growing ties with China represents Washington’s failure, and is failure the US will seek to either reverse or failure the US will seek to punish Honiara and China for.

The endurance of Western hegemony’s remission in the Solomon Islands will indicate the overall “health” of Asia-Pacific and its own ability to resist Washington’s attempts to use the region as a proxy against China, serving Washington’s interests at the expense of the entire region including both its proxies and China.

Brian Berletic is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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