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Solomon Islands is moving towards forging closer ties with Beijing, after a cross-party committee recommended the country sever its relationship with Taiwan by 01October, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.
Taiwan has accused China of providing inducements to Solomon Islands politicians to engineer the diplomatic switch, as the Pacific nation rebuffs efforts by “like-minded countries” to support an Australian-backed transport investment plan.
Amid a push by Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to resolve the issue as early as this week, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu accused a cross-party Solomon Islands taskforce of using “false” information to recommend the diplomatic switch.
The taskforce report, seen by The Australian, recommended the switch “must happen before the 1st October 2019, to coincide with the commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the founding of PRC”.
A meeting of government MPs is scheduled for Monday to decide whether to green-light to switch or stick with Taiwan. The Australian understands the Morrison government, while keen for Solomon Islands to continue diplomatic relations with Taiwan, is maintaining a neutral position to avoid being caught in a diplomatic clash.
Dr Wu said Taiwan and the U.S wanted to fund the nation-building Solomon Islands transport plan, which is being scoped by Australia following a commitment by Scott Morrison in June.
The “national transport core” project would connect all 50 of the country’s constituencies within 15 years.
But Dr Wu said Solomon Islands, one of the most strategic-ally located Pacific nations in relation to Australia, was stalling on developing the plan to a point where it could be funded.
“If there is a concrete plan, the like-minded countries can come together. But so far, there is no clear blueprint for that national transportation core,” Dr Wu told The Australian.
“China seems to be promising infrastructure projects, even though Solomon Islands doesn’t have a clear blueprint of their proposed projects.”
Sogavare had previously been considered a friend of Taipei, but recently declared Taiwan was “completely useless to us,” and suggested China could be a better diplomatic partner for the Pacific nation because it could stand up to Australia.
Solomon Islands is one of 17 nations around the world, and six in the Pacific, that recognise Taiwan.
Following his election in April, Sogavare set up a process to reassess the Taiwan relationship, announcing a taskforce led by pro-China MP John Moffat Fugui to consider switching diplomatic ties to Beijing.
The report prepared by the taskforce claimed Taiwan could not “support” infrastructure development in the Solomon Islands.
Responding to the report, Dr Wu said the taskforce had not been to Taiwan, nor spoken with its officials.
“The taskforce has never been speaking to any of the senior officials in Taiwan. And therefore at least that part of the report is false,” he said.
“And it is not only false, it’s a lie. And we want to make sure the Solomons people and the senior statesmen understand they are forging, or fabricating, that part of the story on Taiwan, to make that recommendation.”
Dr Wu said Taiwan refused to “engage in money politics or money diplomacy”, working instead with Pacific allies to provide agricultural assistance, medical support, training and educational opportunities. He said China had been “working very hard on some politicians in Solomon Islands”.
“We need to be aware that the Chinese way of gaining influence is through private interests, and I am very concerned that some of the politicians in Solomon Islands are more interested in their own pockets than in the welfare of their next generation.”
Dr Wu said he was personally assured by Sogavare that Solomon Islands would not decide on the potential diplomatic switch until four reports had been completed on the issue — the taskforce report, another by the parliament’s foreign relations committee, a third by the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the fourth by the Prime Minister’s own department.
Opposition MP Peter Kenilorea Jr, chairman of the parliament’s foreign relations committee, said he was disappointed Sogavare was prepared to decide without his committee’s report.
“I am concerned because we are not marching to our own beat on this matter,’’ he said.
“We are in fact marching to China’s beat. We are being dictated by China already, even before we switch.
SOURCE: THE AUSTRALIAN/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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