With Solomon island's decision on September 17 to switch their allegiance to China, Taiwan has lost its largest ally in the Pacific. Observers said the move is a premonition that other nations in the pacific might follow the same. The Solomon islands which was the site of fierce battles in World War II lies between Australia and the US. Thus, its geographical location gives it significant importance to both nations.
The Cabinet of Solomon islands voted unanimously in favour of the change, said Alex Akwai, a spokesman for Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. The government’s caucus took a poll on Monday, with 27 lawmakers voting in favour of switching allegiance to China and six abstaining, he informed. Moreover, the Taiwanese Embassy in the capital, Honiara, had lowered its flag on Tuesday, Akwai added. Yet the Embassy staff have not given any response.
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“We sincerely regret and strongly condemn their government’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with China,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said. He added that Taiwan will close the embassy and recall all technical and medical staff stationed there.
Solomon Islands were the largest ally of Taiwan in the Pacific. With a population of 660,000, its economy relies on agriculture, fishing and forestry, and the country has a wealth of undeveloped mineral resources. With Solomon's decision, only 16 countries in the world recognize Taiwan. Among those, the Marshall Islands and Palau have close ties with the US and are unlikely to switch allegiance any soon.
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China, on the other hand, welcomed Somolon islands to its pacific family. The Chinese commended the island's move towards "One-China". The country also claims Taiwan to be part of its territory and wants to bring it under their control. China has been ratcheting up diplomatic and economic pressure in an attempt to woo strategic countries since Tsai took office in 2016. Taiwan split from China in 1949 and set up a rival government.
“China highly commends the decision of the Solomon Islands’ government to recognize the one-China principle and sever the so-called ‘diplomatic ties’ with the Taiwan authorities,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
Chinese experts claim Solomon's move to be beneficial. The blow to Taiwan wasn’t as big now as it might have been in the past, said Professor Anne-Marie Brady, an expert on China at the University of Canterbury. Its because Taiwan has managed to create diplomatic relations with European Union, she added. The Solomon Islands will benefit from their decision as they will be in a position to have better relations with larger nations like the US, China, Australia and New Zealand, she speculated.
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US shouldn't remain silent, said US Republican Senator Marco Rubio. He accused China of pressuring nations to break ties with Taiwan. The US and Int’l community should push back China's bullying, he said. He blamed China of isolating Taiwan.
“The Solomon Islands has officially become the latest nation to bow to Chinese gov’t pressure and sever ties with Taiwan. The U.S. and Int’l community must push back against Beijing’s bullying and efforts to isolate #Taiwan,” Rubio tweeted.
James Batley, a researcher at the Australian National University and a former Australian high commissioner in the Solomon Islands, said that the move wasn't surprising. Yet he warned Solomon islands to beware of China as the country was looking for taking loans for various developmental projects. And taking loan from China comes with a lot of additive costs. Earlier Taiwan had promised to build a stadium in Solomon islands for the 2023 Pacific Games. With the island's latest decision, it has to look forward to China, he said.
“The sense in Solomon Islands is that there are significant resources on offer here from China, and they want to move with the times and on the side of history,” James said.