By EDDIE OSIFELO
SOLOMON Islands need to make an important strategic decision in its foreign policy to deal with the geo-politics in the Pacific.
Former Prime Minister, Danny Philip highlighted this when contributing in the sine die motion in Parliament yesterday.
His concern came about following China’s growing influence in the Pacific to attract traditional allies of Taiwan like Solomon Islands to sign up to Beijing’s multi-billion Belt and Road Initiative in order to build infrastructures and North Korea’s nuclear programme.
Philip said Solomon Islands is racing against time and can influence by bigger power players.
“We are expecting challenges and our sovereignty can be compromised.
“This country cannot become the shadow of another state. This is our country which we want to own it to develop our goals and aspirations,” he said.
Philip warned that globalisation is going to influence Solomon Islands with a lot of things like changing it law, economy dictated, loss of languages and cultures and customs.
“We are in critical times.
“We have to be mindful at all times,” he said.
The Democratic Coalition for Government Advancement (DCGA) agreed to carry out a thorough assessment on the question of shifting from Taiwan to mainland China in its foreign policy.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare confirmed this during a press conference with media in Honiara on Wednesday after recent commentaries that some factions within the government demanded Sogavare to shift diplomatic ties to China or face motion of no confidence in six months.
They wanted the government to sign up with Beijing’s multi-billion Belt and Road Initiative in order to build infrastructures on Guadalcanal and Malaita to address the high unemployment of their youths.
Sogavare has denied any rift within the government and claimed they are rock solid as ever.
He said the government will need to look at the pros and cons of the Taiwan/China issue before making any final decision.
“We have to consider the big players like Australia because it works closely with United States of America that are concern about the security in the Pacific.
“We are small player in this situation, therefore, we need to analyse the pros and cons of it before making the decision,” he said.
Solomon Islands has diplomatic ties with Taiwan for 36 years.
Radio New Zealand reported the United States has warned that Chinese interference in the Pacific could lead to conflict and both the Australian Prime Minister and the New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister have been in Honiara this week, with some theorising that the timing had to do with the impending diplomatic decision.
But Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Jeremiah Manele told RNZI that his government does not feel pressured to make a decision either way.
“It is a sovereign decision, a matter for the Solomon Islands government to look at. On that note, the government is making a comprehensive assessment of the issue so that government, the Caucus and the Cabinet, is well informed on the matter.”
Manele said his government will take its time to make an informed decision about whether to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan or pursue closer relations with China.
Further to that, Minister of Development Planning and Aid Coordination Rick Hou said he favoured sticking with Taiwan in terms of the country’s diplomatic relations.
Mr Hou, who is the former prime minister, raised the idea of reviewing the relationship.
But he said any decision needed to be done very cautiously and with awareness about the current geopolitical climate.
“Personally I think remaining with people that we know would be the best option for us in terms of our long term interests.
“Getting on with someone that we are not very familiar with, given what we know has happened in other regions, namely Africa and Asia and a number of countries in the region, I would be hesitant.”
Rick Hou said this week’s visiting delegations of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New Zealand Deputy Prime Winston Peters did not put any pressure on his government to decide one way or the other.
But he said they did seem wary of the potential implications a change in ties could have in the region.
Australian strategists remain worried that China is intent on establishing a naval base in the South Pacific – although last year Vanuatu furiously denied reports that it had preliminary talks with Beijing about establishing a permanent Chinese military presence on the island.
US Principal Deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, W Patrick Murphy would not be drawn on whether he thought it was a likely prospect, but said the “concept” of China establishing a base in the region was “quite troubling”.
RNZI said there has also been an intense debate in the Pacific about whether some nations have taken out unsustainable loans from China.
China is splashing out billions of dollars in concessional loans to developing countries, but what happens when these debt-laden nations can’t pay Beijing back?
The US Ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse Jr stoked controversy when he accused China of “payday loan” diplomacy.
Multilateral bodies like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank hold much more debt in the Pacific than China does – but the US points out that Beijing has used predatory lending tactics in several other countries including Sri Lanka and Cambodia.
Mr Murphy said China had a “role to play” in the Pacific, but it needed to adhere to the rule of law and ensure it was not fostering corruption.