By Alfred Sasako
CHINA has reiterated it is ready to welcome Solomon Islands into its Pacific fold, warning the window of opportunity for meaningful engagement is closing fast.
The message was issued last week as the battle between China and Australia for influence in the Pacific continues unabated.
A delegation of the Solomon Islands-China Friendship Association (SICFA) which participated in China’s Belt and Road Initiative forum in Xining, northwest China, was told of China’s position in discussions last week.
The Forum coincided with the Summit of International Sister Cities Along the Silk Road, China’s ancient trade route for spice and silk linking it with Europe via the Asian continent.
In discussions with various groups of people including Chinese government officials who attended the Summit, the SICFA delegation was told the same message: China is ready to engage with Solomon Islands, adding this is only possible through a change in diplomatic relations.
Solomon Islands is one of six Pacific Island Countries which has diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China claims is its renegade Province.
“China is ready but the key to open that door is with the Solomon Islands government,” one Chinese official told SICFA delegates.
The official warned that the window of opportunity is closing fast, adding it is in the best interest of Solomon Islands’ development needs that it acts promptly.
Since it came into office last April, the Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DCGA), led by Manasseh Sogavare, has set up a bipartisan Taskforce to examine the pros and cons of a switch in relations.
The Taskforce, led by Central Honiara MP Hon Dr John Moffat Fugui, has since visited Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa – the island countries which have diplomatic relations with China to see the impact of Chinese aid into the Pacific.
It is due to visit Papua New Guinea at the end of this month.
The Chinese Embassy in Port Moresby has confirmed the Taskforce is planning to visit Beijing in August. It will also visit Taipei as part of its mandate designed to help the Government to decide its relations with Taiwan.
A Chinese Professor has said Australia’s perception of China’s motive behind the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in the Pacific region couldn’t be farther from the truth.
“The nonsensical bogey of a menacing China as a threat to Australia’s security and sovereignty based upon ideological differences is so disconnected from reality that it could only be diagnosed as an obsessive paranoia,” Prof Chen Hong said.
The Prof also accused US President Trump and Australia of engaging in the Cold War mindset, despite a push by China for a shared future for mankind.
“While China advocates a shared future for mankind some Western countries such as Australia are still fixated on the Cold War confrontational mindset, resonating the Trumpian rhetoric of decoupling from China which is absurd considering pervasive globalisation.”
“There are considerable differences between the Chinese and Australian areas of focus in this region. China’s aid and cooperation programs are mainly in the form of infrastructure projects such as bridges, airports, seaports and hospitals, while Australia stresses more upon issues such as AIDS prevention, education, human rights, legal system and gender equality.”
“The Pacific countries have a huge demand for funds, advanced technology and professionals with technological expertise and competence, which China can provide.
“China does not regard Australia as its competitor, but s collaborator in the South Pacific. China’s aid and investment programs are not aimed at regional leadership or threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries, but seek to bring about economic exchange and joint development with mutual benefits,” Prof Hong said.