Taiwan remains 'important partner' says Solomon Islands prime minister

Despite support and assurances of leader, dissent is brewing in new coalition government

File photo: Solomon Islands PM Manasseh Sogavare and President Tsai, July, 2016

File photo: Solomon Islands PM Manasseh Sogavare and President Tsai, July, 2016 (Wikimedia Commons photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, says that the relationship with Taiwan has “matured” and that Taiwan remains an “important partner” on his nation’s path of development.

Commenting on the meeting last week between Taiwan’s Ambassador Roger Luo, Sogavare has again assured Taiwan that his government remains committed to its diplomatic partnership with Taiwan.

According to a report from local media outlet, Solomon Star News, Taiwan is keen to enhance investment and cooperation in areas of agriculture, fisheries and renewable energy.

Following elections in the Pacific nation in early April, Sogavare, a political independent, was appointed prime minister by a newly formed coalition of political parties called the Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DCGA).

Prior to the elections and in the first weeks of the new government taking shape there was some speculation that Solomon Islands may be on the verge of abandoning relations with Taiwan.

However, reports over the past week and the comments of the new prime minister indicate that relations between Taiwan and Solomon Islands under the DCGA are secure for the foreseeable future.

On May 8, Sogavare boarded a Taiwanese Navy ship to attend a reception with Ambassador Roger Luo and Naval officers. The following day, Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joseph Wu, announced that ties with the island nation were “shipshape and in Bristol fashion.”

Despite the reassurances of the new government leader, there are reportedly dissenting voices among members of parliament (MP) of the new ruling DCGA.

Local media outlet, Island Sun News, has reported that the new government may already be approaching a crisis and “face a revolt” over the issue of Taiwan, in what may be the first major crisis facing the DCGA’s fledgling coalition government.

Foreign Minister Joseph Wu has also recognized that "some Solomon Islands officials are inclined toward China."

The report says that a special envoy from Taipei, Ben Wang, was sent to conduct consultations with members of the new DCGA following elections and the appointment of Sogavare as PM. The lawmakers have reportedly "put Taiwan on Notice” with an ultimatum that Taiwan must increase direct funding to certain constituencies of the country, or “lose Honiara to Beijing.”

“Ben asked what sort of timeframe are we talking about … six months, one year? He was told it could happen tomorrow. He was red-faced,” an unnamed source told Island Sun.

The report indicates that there is some dissatisfaction among MPs who were denied ministerial positions in the new government, and that there are also long-running disputes about funding to local constituencies. The MPs see new relations with China as the fastest way to alleviate their financial burdens.

As many as 11 MPs are reportedly spearheading a movement to challenge Sogavare’s leadership and undermine Taiwan’s relations with the Solomon Islands. The new Prime Minister, clearly voicing his pro-Taiwan position, is aware of the dissenting faction of his coalition, and in private remarks has reportedly identified some of the MPs as “anti-Taiwan.”

Sogovare has served three previous terms as prime minister of the Solomon Islands, and has faced similar challenges by members of his own ruling coalition before, including a vote of no-confidence as recent as 2017 by dissenting coalition government MPs.