Switch in diplomatic relations looking inevitable

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Solomon Islands and China's flag. Photo by RNZ
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By Alfred Sasako

 

THE switch in diplomatic relations to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) potentially slated to occur next month appears to be on track, putting Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on a collision course with Taiwan and its anti-Chinese allies such as the United States of America and Australia

The last time the government allowed its senior Minister for Civil Aviation and Communication, Peter Shanel Agovaka, to attend a conference convened by the United Nations drew protest notes from Washington and Taipei.

Hon Agovaka’s attendance was sanctioned by Cabinet, according to officials. Following the protests, Cabinet rescinded its earlier decision to allow him to attend the Conference in Beijing. Then Prime Minister, Rick Houenipwela took the brief paper to Cabinet.

“By then it was too late as Hon Agovaka was already in Beijing. So the Minister was given sightseeing visits the whole time while officials attend the conference,” one official told Island Sun recently.

In the latest move, permission has been granted to seven key Ministers and one senior official to visit Beijing this week, a move which is contrary to official policy in dealing with China.

“I am sure we will be expecting a second diplomatic protest note from the United States and of course Taiwan,” a senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office told Island Sun.

The Beijing Ministerial visit this week is reportedly at the invitation of the head of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), Li Xiaolin.

Minister for Civil Aviation and Communication, Peter Shanel Agovaka, will lead the seven-member delegation which leaves for China today (15 August). All Coalition partners in the DCGA government were represented but the Democratic Alliance Party (DAP).

Other members of the delegation are the Minister for Finance and Treasury, Harry Kuma; former deputy Prime Minister and now Infrastructure Minister, Manasseh Maelanga; Minister of Rural Development, Duddley Kopu; the Minister of Provincial Government and Institutional Strengthening, Anthony Veke; Minister of Commerce, Industries, Labour and Immigration, Clezy Rore; Deputy Chairman of Caucus, Jackson Fiulaua and the Chair of the of Parliamentary Standing Committee. Commins Mewa.

Prime Minister Sogavare’s personal secretary Ronald Fugui is traveling with the delegation.

In Beijing the Ministerial Delegation is expected to meet members of the bipartisan Taskforce, which the Government had earlier set up to investigate switching relations to Mainland China. The Taskforce has spent the last month, visiting Pacific Island Countries which have diplomatic relations with Mainland China.

The five-member Taskforce, led by the Member for Central Honiara, Hon Dr John Moffat Fugui, has visited Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Papua New Guinea.

The two groups will meet in Beijing later this week, potentially to compare notes on their findings on the question of switching relations with China. Their report will determine the position the government will take on the diplomatic relations.

There are speculations that the inclusion of Finance Minister Kuma on the delegation suggests, discussions on a financial package is on the table. Island Sun is unable to confirm this independently.

Taiwan could be offended if this happens as such a move will be taken as a slap on the face by Taipei which has enjoyed diplomatic relations with Solomon Islands since 1982.

Taiwan has consistently provided generous financial assistance amounting to about $100 million a year for micro economic activities in rural Solomon Islands. The funding is paid through Members of Parliament, an arrangement which has attracted a lot of criticisms by members of the public.

Besides this public funding, Taipei also operates a slush fund to address political instability in government. The funds, often disbursed around Christmas, are only accessible at head of government level.

Only members of the ruling government share the funds, which the Taiwanese Embassy in Honiara has strenuously denied its existence.

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