China Ties Blamed for South Pacific Unrest

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Papua New Guinea has joined Australia in sending police officers to the neighboring Solomon Islands following violent unrest this week. The unrest has threatened to topple the government of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogaware.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogaware says his government is still in control, but has sought help from Australia and Papua New Guinea to provide security.

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Australia has sent a contingent of about 120 federal police officers and soldiers. Papua New Guinea has sent some 35 police and corrections officers.

The deployment comes after days of violence and looting in the Solomon Islands.


Australian soldiers stand outside the airport in Honiara, Solomon Islands, on November 27, 2021.

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Smoke was seen rising from the Chinatown district of the capital Honiara this week after protesters tried to storm parliament. Police fired tear gas and fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd demanding Prime Minister Sogaware’s resignation. He was elected leader for the fourth time in 2019.

Police said on Saturday that three bodies were found in a burnt-out building in Honiara’s Chinatown district. The cause of the deaths is not clear.

Analysts say the current unrest has deep roots. Among the triggers are long-standing ethnic tensions, allegations of official corruption, and disputes over the government’s move to more closely align with China.

In 2019, the Solomon Islands switched its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China.

Debris lies on the street outside damaged shops in Chinatown, Honiara, Solomon Islands, November 26, 2021.

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James Batley is the former Australian High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands and Distinguished Policy Fellow at the Australian National University’s Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs.

He says community tensions over ties with China have fueled the unrest.

“It’s not foreign policy itself, but I think this diplomatic switch has contributed to those pre-existing complaints, and especially in the sense that the Chinese have interfered in politics in the Solomon Islands, that Chinese money has somehow fueled corruption.” Has promoted, distorted the way politics works in the Solomon Islands,” Batley said.

The disturbance occurred after national elections in the Solomon Islands in 2006. Most of Honiara’s Chinatown was then destroyed because of speculation that trade with ties to China had affected the ballot.

Australia led a multinational peacekeeping mission to the Solomon Islands in 2003, and it maintained a security presence on the South Pacific archipelago until 2017.

The islands are 2,000 km northeast of the city of Brisbane, Australia.

The mostly Melanesian South Pacific nation is home to about 700,000 people and has about 120 indigenous languages.

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