Why rioters are burning and looting in the Solomon Islands

Angry riots that torched buildings in the Solomon Islands capital on Thursday are the latest flare-up in two decades of tensions in the Pacific nation, which have often implicated Chinese businesses.

The recipe for the crisis is youth unemployment, anger over anti-coronavirus controls, historic inter-island rivalry and a complicated dispute over whether the Solomon Islands should have changed diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China.

Here are key facts to help explain the events:

– ‘The Tension’ – Since gaining independence from Britain in 1978, the Solomon Islands have been mired in inter-island tensions and political violence.

The latest crisis originated from a period of civil unrest between 1998 and 2003, known as “The Tension”.

The inhabitants of the principal island of Guadalcanal resisted the influence of settlers from other islands, especially Malaita, the most populous province.

Guadalcanal militants launched attacks on the settlers in 1998, giving way to five years of sectarian unrest that brought the country to its knees.

Peace was finally restored in 2003 by the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), with contributions from troops and police from Australia, New Zealand, and 15 Pacific countries.

RAMSI maintained a presence until 2017 but even after his departure the tension was not too far below the surface.

– 2006 Chinatown riots – Riots erupted in April 2006 after Snyder Renee was elected prime minister by legislators. Dozens of businesses owned by ethnic Chinese were looted and burned in the capital, Honiara.

Local resentment was building against the dominance of foreign trade figures – mostly ethnic Chinese from Taiwan, China, Malaysia and the Philippines – as well as anger at corruption, inequality and resource exploitation.

Chinese businesses were targeted partly because of allegations that they and Taiwan – which at the time had diplomatic ties with Honiara – helped finance Rini by bribing legislators to support the prime minister’s vote. Of.

China had to hire planes to evacuate its citizens. Australia and New Zealand sent peacekeepers to quell the unrest.

– 2019 diplomatic switch and riots – The historic rivalry between Guadalcanal and Malaya in 2019 converged with international geopolitics when veteran politician Manasseh Sogaware was elected prime minister, triggering another round of violent protests.

One of Sogaware’s campaign platforms was to change diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China, which he did five months later.

Taiwan and China have engaged in diplomatic tug of war in developing countries for years, with economic support and other aid often used as bargaining chips for diplomatic recognition.

The switch to Sogaware paved the way for unlocking large amounts of Chinese investment, but it was not unanimously popular, especially on Malaita where residents had benefited from Taiwanese aid projects and maintained deep ties with Taipei.

Plans to lease an entire island to a Chinese state-owned company – announced just days after the diplomatic switch – soon had to be abandoned because it was deeply unpopular.

– Creation of New Crisis – The political violence that broke out this week is a continuation of all of the above.

Writing in the Solomon Times, Transform Akorou described it as “the culmination of many overlooked flashpoints”, citing the Sino-Taiwan split as well as tensions between national and provincial governments.

Local reports said several protesters in Honiara this week traveled from Malaita, where anger was growing over the perceived lack of central government investment and the decision to leave Taiwan as an ally.

“It was a well-planned peaceful protest… what happened is that tensions have escalated,” Mihai Sora, an expert on the Pacific Ocean at Australia’s Lowy Institute, told AFP.

Malaita chief Daniel Suidani has been an outspoken critic of the change in diplomatic recognition for Beijing.

Sora said Sudan has maintained ties with Taiwan in defiance of the central government’s directives. Earlier this year, he was treated at a hospital in Taiwan.

Nicolas Koppel, the former Australian ambassador and special coordinator for RAMSI, told AFP that most complaints at Solomons “arise from feelings of inequality in the distribution of resources”.

“Most of the people of the Solomon Islands live in semi-subsistence rural areas and care little for foreign policy decisions.”

“However, they care about the projects on Malaita that Taiwan funded once finished and China is giving preference to sports facilities concentrated in Honiara,” he said.


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