The Solomon Islands is considering establishing diplomatic ties with mainland China.
The chief of a parliamentary group from the Pacific island nation spoke about the talks. He said his country could announce plans to cut ties with Taiwan and establish relations with China as soon as this week.
The Solomon Islands has recognized self-ruling Taiwan since 1983. Currently, the island nation and 16 other states recognize Taiwan’s government.
The Reuters news agency reports that Solomon Islands lawmaker Peter Shanel Agovaka told a parliamentary committee that it was time to make a change. Agovaka is head of a government team that has been in contact with Chinese officials.
Peter Kenilorea is an opposition lawmaker who leads the parliamentary foreign relations committee. He told Reuters, “The amount of money that has already been spent by the government on this is quite telling.”
A task force from the Solomon Islands visited Pacific nations allied with China. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare appointed the group’s members to consider ties with Taiwan. Then eight Solomon Islander ministers visited Beijing with the prime minister’s personal secretary last month.
Kelinorea said, “It doesn’t take much imagination to work out what the task force will recommend.”
The government has said the task force’s members only visited Beijing. A government lawmaker who did not want to be identified said both the group and the ministers were clearly leaning towards mainland China. But he said a surprise was still possible.
In a statement released Monday, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said its understanding is that the Solomon Islands would consider the ideas of other government agencies and politicians. It added that any decision would be discussed by parliament and the Cabinet.
An official with Taiwan’s foreign ministry said the “relationship with Solomon Islands currently is stable, but we are closely monitoring the situation and development.”
China’s Foreign Ministry refused to answer questions about the Solomon Islands when asked. It said that China is willing to have relations with all countries that accept the “one China” principle. That is the policy that Taiwan is part of China.
China has been concerned that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen wants to push for independence. China has answered by launching a campaign to take away its remaining diplomatic allies.
El Salvador, Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic all cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan last year.
A history of ties
The Pacific Ocean is a place where Taiwan traditionally has had strong support. Six island nations make up a large part of its alliances.
Taiwan promised $8.5 million to the Solomon Islands for 2019 and 2020.
That money goes to a health development fund. The anti-corruption group Transparency Solomon Islands says the program has links to vote-buying.
However, Solomon Islander lawmakers say the money has been used to support health services, including a government website and health programs.
China has aggressively pushed financing over the past 10 years and has become one of the biggest providers of money and aid in the Pacific area.
In the Solomon Islands, the issue of switching ties threatens to divide the small country. Sixteen ministers of parliament warned of “compromised freedoms” as a reason not to switch from Taiwan to the mainland.
Many students oppose the change. Ishmael Aitorea is a student at the University of the South Pacific in the capital, Honiara.
“Taiwan has been faithful in giving us aid,” he said, adding that many people on the island do not trust China.
I’m Mario Ritter Jr.
The Reuters news agency reported this story. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted the report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
lean towards – v. being more likely to do one thing than another
monitor – v. to study or watch something
principle – n. an idea that forms the basis of a policy or belief
fund – n. an amount of money that is available for a set purpose
switch – v. to change from one thing to another
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