China sway in Solomon Islands ‘alarming: opposition figurehead

China says spy claims in Germany and Britain are malicious
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China’s growing hold over Pacific nation Solomon Islands is “alarming”, a powerful opposition figurehead told AFP Monday ahead of elections that could further entrench Beijing’s foothold in the region.

“During these past five years, there have been so many things that China was involved in. It’s really alarming at the moment,” Daniel Suidani said in an exclusive interview.

Suidani says he is troubled by what he believes is Beijing’s corrosive impact on democracy in the island nation.

Solomon Islands has warmly embraced China under mercurial Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, with the two nations inking a murky security pact in 2022.

A torrent of Chinese aid and investment has flowed into the country during Sogavare’s five years at the helm, and the 69-year-old has vowed to further deepen these ties if re-elected on Wednesday.

Fearful the money could one day come with strings attached, former Malaita premier Suidani was one of the rare provincial leaders who refused to cash China’s cheques.

Suidani accused Chinese interests of working behind the scenes to help keep pro-Beijing members in parliament.

“They are very, very involved in this government,” he told AFP on a scratchy phone line from Auki, Malaita’s coastal provincial capital.

“They are involved in other things, so there is no doubt that they must be involved in elections. Because they have been doing it for some time.”

Sogavare has repeatedly denied China poses a threat to the country, and says foreign critics should not meddle in the Solomons’ sovereignty

Suidani’s provincial government was so concerned about China’s sway, it blocked telco giant Huawei from building desperately needed cellphone towers on the island.

One of the most galvanising figures in Solomon Islands’ politics, Suidani commands an enthusiastic base of supporters on Malaita.


– ‘Freedom and liberty’ –


He was abruptly ousted as Malaita’s provincial leader in February 2023, defeated in a motion of no-confidence while he and his supporters were absent from parliament.

Suidani has accused Sogavare’s government of orchestrating what he said was an underhanded manouevre to silence one of its most vocal critics.

Observers of Pacific politics believe Sogavare has demonstrated increasingly autocratic tendencies in his quest to stay in power.

“For the international community, I would like to say that we need your support,” Suidani said.

“We want to share the same freedom and liberty that everyone else shares.”

Solomon Islands is one of the least-developed nations in the world, and Sogavare firmly believes its path to prosperity lies with Beijing.

But his main rivals are deeply sceptical of his pact with China, and have signalled a willingness to re-establish ties with traditional security partners Australia and the United States.

“The 2024 election is going to be a very critical one for Solomon Islands,” said Suidani.

The capital Honiara was abuzz with fervent election campaigning on Monday morning, as parties carted hollering supporters into the city on an endless procession of packed flat-bed trucks.


– ‘Rise up’ –


The international scramble for influence was clear: giant “Radio Australia” billboards hung over the only route into town, while police cars slapped with “China Aid” stickers trundled past on potholed roads.

A boisterous rally for former prime minister Gordon Darcy Lilo was held on a muddy, waterlogged field on the city’s outskirts.

Teacher Josep was among a crowd of hundreds noisily clamouring for a change of government.

“The economy is collapsing. I want the people of Honiara to rise up and reclaim our country,” he told AFP, as supporters honked their agreement through conch shells and plastic horns.

The vote will be held on April 17, although it could take weeks for the opaque coalition-building process to resolve who will be prime minister.


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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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