Solomon Islands 'clearly leaning' toward shifting ties from Taiwan to China

Solomon Islands appears to be preparing to shift ties from Taiwan to China

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(Taiwan Office of the President photo)

(Taiwan Office of the President photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The Solomon Islands, one of Taiwan's 17 remaining diplomatic allies, appears to be leaning towards switching its ties to China, according to sources who spoke to Reuters.

The Solomon Islands first became a diplomatic ally of Taiwan's in 1983. If the Solomon Islands were to switch their ties from Taiwan to communist China, it would make the latest in a series of diplomatic allies which Beijing has been able to lure away with its notorious debt diplomacy.

Opposition lawmaker Peter Kenilorea told Reuters that "There’s a certain thinking with the current government and executive to switch." Kenilorea said that the large amount of money spent on a task force to investigate ties, which was set up by new Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, "is quite telling."

The task force had already visited a number of Pacific countries which are allies of China before a visit to Beijing in mid-August by Solomon ministers and the private secretary to the prime minister. Kenilorea indicated to Reuters that given the recent aggressive probing behavior by the Solomon government, "It doesn't take much imagination to work out what the task force will recommend."

Based on parliament schedules, the task force could present its findings as early as this week. A government lawmaker, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Reuters that the task force and the panel of ministers "were clearly leaning toward Beijing," but he could not rule out a "surprise."

However, the Solomon Islands-China Friendship Association told the news service that it believed that the government was divided over the issue. In an emailed statement, the organization told Reuters, "At this point, it remains unclear whether the Solomon Islands government will agree on a switch to China or remain with the status quo."

In response to the Reuters report, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokesperson Joanne Ou (歐江安) insisted that ties between Taiwan and the Solomon Islands remain strong. Ou said that the task force does not have the final say and that the Cabinet and the parliament must also discuss the proposal before a final decision is made, reported CNA.

When Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office as Taiwan's president in 2016, she refused to recognize the "1992 Consensus" and only acknowledged that the 1992 Taiwan-China talks were a "historical fact." In response, China has been seeking to punish Taiwan by excluding it from international organizations, intimidating government bodies and corporations to de-list Taiwan as a country, ramping up military drills around the island, and stealing away diplomatic allies.