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Explained: What is happening in Solomon Islands?

This week's violence was sparked by concerns about increasing links with China

SOLOMON ISLANDS-UNREST/ People walk on a street next to destroyed objects after days of unrest in Honiara, Solomon Islands November 26, 2021 | Reuters

Amid widespread protests in Solomon Islands against embattled Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, the arrival of 100 Australian police and soldiers, and a contingent of 50 from Papua New Guinea, has largely restored calm in the nation. However, as news agency Reuters reported, tensions remain high, with the protestors unhappy over the presence of Australian police and soldiers in the country. 

What is happening there?

This week's violence was sparked by concerns about the Pacific nation's increasing links with China. Sogavare has been widely criticised by leaders of the country's most populous island of Malaita for a 2019 decision to drop diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of mainland China.

Beijing claims the self-ruled island of Taiwan as part of its territory.

His government, meanwhile, has been upset over millions in US aid promised directly to Malaita, rather than through the central government on the largest island of Guadacanal, where Honiara is located. The two islands have been rivals for decades.

Andrew Yang, a professor at Taiwan's National Sun Yat-sen University and former deputy defense minister, said China's efforts to win diplomatic recognition from the Solomon Islands are part of a competition for regional dominance with the United States and its ally, Australia.

The Solomon Islands, with a population of about 7,00,000, are about 1,500 kilometres northeast of Australia. They are best known for the bloody fighting that took place there during World War II between the United States and Japan.

Riots and looting targeting Hoinara's Chinatown and downtown precincts erupted Wednesday out of a peaceful protest in the capital by people from Malaita. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the demonstrators, who set fire to the National Parliament, a police station and many other buildings.

Critics also blamed the unrest on complaints of a lack of government services and accountability, corruption and Chinese businesses giving jobs to foreigners instead of locals.

Since the 2019 shift in allegiance from Taiwan to China, there has been an expectation of massive infrastructure investment from Beijing locally rumored to be in the range of $500 million but with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic shortly after the shift, none of that has yet materialised.

Malaita threatened to hold a referendum on independence over the issue, but that was quashed by Sogavare's government.

-Inputs from agencies


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