Fire, vandalism and riots. Tensions have reached a boiling point in the Solomon Islands, and even a break in the chaos won’t solve the crisis that remains deep within the nation.
The Solomon Islands have been in a constant state of tension for decades. The infamous period between 1998 and 2003 witnessed the rise of ethnic militias who engaged in widespread illegal activity. Intervention by Australia in 2003 until 2017 stabilised the situation but failed to address the underlying issues plaguing the country.
These issues are primarily political and economic-based, with the decision of the Solomon Islands government to switch its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019 demonstrating this fact. The Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, informed the nation that this decision would result in greater economic aid from China and investment in infrastructure projects. However, widespread claims that government ministers were offered immense amounts of money to make this decision resulted in understandable resentment from the community. The relationship with China is seen by the locals only to extend the divide between the wealthy political class and the struggling young population starved of opportunities.
The collateral damage to these tensions has been the attacks on Chinese businesses in the capital of Honiara. The Chinese community is a scapegoat for the Solomon Islands people who are desperately searching for answers. Moreover, political rival Suidani, the Malatia Premier, has encouraged (either explicitly or implicitly) the anti-Chinese sentiment by performing in activities that clearly support Taiwan (such as travelling to Taipei to receive treatment for a suspected brain tumour). The country is divided, the government is divided, and it is the citizens who have to deal with the consequences. That tension is destined to explode, and that is what has happened over the past week.
Australia has responded, with the Australian Defence Force and Australian Federal Police currently in Honiara to provide support if the security situations and threats to civilians escalates. How long with Australian forces remain in the capital? This question seems impossible to answer. Indeed until the current chaos has subsided, but what happens next? Sogavare is refusing to step down despite calls from the people, and all previous efforts to support the nation have only provided short-term solutions.
The answer is not a simple one, and there are people who have a better understanding than me about what is required – but here are two of my thoughts from researching the issue:
Firstly, there seems to be a lack of transparency in the government. Where is the money going? How much are government ministers being paid? Was there any discussion with China? As these questions have remained unknown to the people, it has continued to fuel their resentment towards the government, exacerbated by the poor economic state. Transparency can provide some answers and ensure political accountability.
Secondly, there needs to be political unity. You can have different political parties that vary slightly on policies (or even just what policies they prioritise the most). But, having two dominant leaders who are polar opposites spells disaster for a small country like the Solomon Islands. In a challenging time within the nation’s history, consistency is required to have a uniform direction for the country to move forward.
I’m thinking of the people of the Solomon Islands. I understand your reaction and the frustration you have felt for multiple years. The politicised nature of ‘China vs the Western World’ must be dismissed by allies to provide genuine support to the people of the Solomon Islands. Short-term solutions are required to control the situation and protect lives/businesses.
BUT, without an action plan to address the underlying concerns, this won’t be the last time we see fire, vandalism and riots in the Solomon Islands.