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Solomon Islanders support continued ties with Taiwan

Many of the Pacific island's citizens at odds with officials favoring diplomatic switch to China and wary of its influence

Shops line Mendana Avenue in the Solomons capital of Honiara

Shops line Mendana Avenue in the Solomons capital of Honiara (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The government of the Solomon Islands, one of only 17 that officially recognizes Taiwan, is weighing a transfer of diplomatic ties to China, but its people appear to favor its longstanding relations with Taiwan and are reportedly wary of China's influence in the Pacific island nation.

Taiwan's ambassador to the Solomons, Oliver Liao (廖文哲), stated that 80 to 90 percent of Solomon Islanders remain supportive of Taiwan, the Central News Agency reports. Tsai Min-hua (蔡華明), vice president of the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce, echoed Liao's optimism, estimating public support for Taiwan to be around 90 percent.

In Honiara, the capital of the Pacific archipelago, CNA conducted interviews with locals, asking them for their thoughts on Taiwan-Solomon Island relations.

A taxi driver said Taiwan has provided the Solomons with considerable assistance in the realms of healthcare and agriculture. As for the latter, a fruit vendor interviewed by the news agency credited the success of her papayas to Taiwan's cooperation with local farmers.

A number of Solomon Islanders also referred to the scholarships Taiwan offers to help foster talent among the country's youths. NGO worker Wendy Huruiia contrasted this with the Chinese residing in the country, who she says seek only profit.

Several Honiara locals expressed their concerns about the growing Chinese presence there, whether through logging activity or dominance of the sales industry. One vegetable seller lamented that he and his fellow entrepreneurs have been relegated to running small enterprises.

However, some see the country's drift into China's economic orbit as the writing on the wall, with FRC Chairman Peter Kenilorea saying on Sept. 2 that, "There's a certain thinking with the current government and executive to switch," reported Reuters. The Solomon Islands formed Foreign Relations Committee of the Solomon Islands' parliament met last week to deliberate on whether or not to abandon Taiwan

Following April elections, the Solomon Islands' newly elected government formed a task force to evaluate its relations with Taiwan and China, sending the delegation on a tour of Beijing-allied nations in the Pacific region. Fueling speculation over an impending parting of ways, Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele arrived in Tapei on Sept. 8 for a five-day visit.