Solomon Islands leader to make week-long visit to China as ties burgeon

Gina Maka’a
Honiara, Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands leader to make week-long visit to China as ties burgeon Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare [left] attends a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on Oct. 9, 2019 with China’s premier at the time, Li Keqiang.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare will head to China this weekend for his second visit to the Asian superpower in four years, an official from the island nation’s foreign ministry confirmed Friday, underlining U.S.-China rivalry in the Pacific region.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin announced the week-long visit at a regular ministry press conference on Thursday, though the government in Honiara is yet to issue a statement about the trip.

A Solomon Islands foreign ministry official told BenarNews that Sogavare will travel to Beijing on Sunday.

“The leaders of the two countries will have in-depth exchanges of views on bilateral relations and international and regional issues of mutual interest,” Wang said at the press conference. Sogavare will visit Beijing, Jiangsu and Guangdong, he said.

The Solomon Islands, home to about 700,000 people, has become a focal point of China-U.S. rivalry in the Pacific. Under Sogavare, it switched its diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taiwan in 2019 and signed a secretive security pact with China last year, alarming the United States and allies such as Australia. 

Sogavare’s trip to China comes after Australia offered to extend its military and police deployment in the Solomon Islands. The Pacific island country is preparing to host a regional sporting event later this year – bankrolled by China, Australia and Indonesia – and hold postponed elections in the first half of 2024. 

Australia sent more than 200 troops and police to the Solomon Islands in late 2021 at the request of Sogavare’s government following anti-China and anti-government riots in the capital Honiara. So far, the Solomons Islands government has neither publicly accepted nor rejected Australia’s offer.

The Sogavare government’s apparent secrecy about the trip to China has caused some disquiet in the Solomon Islands.

Honiara resident Wilson Kako, enjoying a public holiday to mark Solomon Islands’ Independence Day, said previous prime ministers usually announced their overseas travel to the public several days beforehand.

“I have issues when such big and important visits are kept secret or unannounced,” he said. “This has left many of us wondering whether this trip is for the good of the nation or for the prime minister’s personal interest only.” 

Wilson Kako, pictured in Honiara on July 7, 2023, said he was concerned that the Solomon Islands government had not announced details of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s visit to China. [Gina Maka’a/BenarNews]

Jason Mone, however, said he was happy that Sogavare would visit China because the country had helped change the image of the Solomon Islands.

“Development is what every Solomon Islander wants,” he said.

China’s influence in the Pacific has burgeoned over several decades through a combination of increased trade, infrastructure investment and aid as it seeks to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and gain allies in international institutions. The Pacific island nation of Kiribati also switched its diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 2019.

Both China and Australia have been training Solomon Islands police and donating equipment, including water cannons gifted by China and guns courtesy of Australia. The most recent largesse – in the past week – included seven Nissan X-Trail SUVs from Australia as well as night-vision devices, drones, a wireless signal jammer and two vehicles from China. 

Wang, at the press conference, said relations between China and Solomon Islands have grown rapidly since they established diplomatic relations in 2019. 

Sogavare’s visit, Wang said, will provide “new impetus” to further develop China-Solomon Islands ties. The visit will be an “opportunity to deepen political mutual trust, expand practical cooperation and enhance cultural and people-to-people exchange,” he said.


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