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Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has declared Taiwan “is completely useless to us”, and suggested China could be a better diplomatic partner for the Pacific nation because it could stand up to Australia.
As the Solomon Islands prepares to decide whether to recognise China or maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, Sogavare — a longtime advocate of the Taiwan relationship — has given the strongest sign yet that his country could sever ties with Taipei.
In an interview with Australian National University Pacific and China expert Graeme Smith,Sogavare said that, unlike Taiwan, China would be able to provide support without having to defer to Australia. “To be honest, when it comes to economics and politics, Taiwan is completely useless to us,” he told the Little Red Podcast.
“I sent 40 police officers to go and train in Taiwan. And you know what Australia did? The Foreign Affairs Minister himself went to Taiwan and says: ‘Stop the training, that area is ours.’
“So what I’m saying is, if this was China … they wouldn’t give a damn to Alexander Downer if he goes there and says: ‘You stop, get out of here.’
“They’d say: ‘Get the hell out of here.’ This is a sovereign decision made by a sovereign government.”
The example dates back to 2006, during the Australia-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands.
Sogavare said Fiji was better able to assert itself in its relationship with Australia because of its China relationship.
“Take Fiji. They can flex their muscles. And (say): ‘You behave yourself. I have another friend here.’ ”
But he conceded many Solomon Islanders were opposed to recognising China.
“They say: ‘Oh no, no, no, no. Let’s not go down that path.’ But it will be very interesting when you start to give them: ‘Well, this is what we will get if we switch.’ ”
Sogavare’s political future is bound up in the Taiwan decision, as a large number of government MPs are in favour of the switch.
In May, Guadalcanal and Malaita MPs gave Sogavare six months to shift diplomatic relations to China or face a motion of no confidence. But 16 Solomon Islands MPs warned against severing ties with Taiwan, voicing concern over “compromised freedoms” under a China alliance.
It would be a coup for China if it was able to peel away Solomon Islands from Taiwan, paving the way for others to turn to Beijing.
SOURCE: THE AUSTRALIAN/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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