Why Anti-Government Protests in the Solomon Islands Are Targeting Chinatown

(CANBERRA, Australia) — Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on Friday blamed foreign interference over his government’s decision to switch alliances from Taiwan to Beijing for anti-government protests, arson and looting that have ravaged the capital Honiara in recent days.

But critics also blamed the unrest on complaints of a lack of government services and accountability, corruption and Chinese businesses giving jobs to foreigners instead of locals.

Honiara’s Chinatown and its downtown precinct have been focuses of rioters, looters and protesters who have demanded Sogavare, who has intermittently been prime minister since 2000, to resign.

The National Parliament building, a police station and businesses have been set alight during two tumultuous days in which police failed to control the mob.
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Sogavare angered many in 2019, particularly leaders of the Solomon Islands’ most populous province, Malaita, when he cut the country’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Malaita leaders complain their island has been unfairly deprived of government investment since the change.

A plane carrying Australian police and diplomats arrived late Thursday in Honiara, where they will help local police efforts to restore order, Australia’s Defense Minister Peter Dutton said.

Sogavare said he stood by his government’s decision to embrace Beijing, which he described as the “only issue” in the violence, which was “unfortunately influenced and encouraged by other powers.”

External pressures were a “very big … influence. I don’t want to name names. We’ll leave it there,” Sogavare said.

“I’m not going to bow down to anyone. We are intact, the government’s intact and we’re going to defend democracy,” he added.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne did not agree that other countries had stirred up the unrest.

“We have not indicated that at all,” Payne said.

“We’ve been very clear. Our view is we don’t want to see violence. We would very much hope for a return to stability,” she added.

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Local journalist Gina Kekea said the foreign policy switch to Beijing with little public consultation was one of a mix of issues that led to the protests. There were also complaints that foreign companies were not providing local jobs.

“Chinese businesses and (other) Asian businesses … seem to have most of the work, especially when it comes to extracting resources, which people feel strongly about,” Kekea said.

Protesters had been replaced by looters and scavengers on Friday in Chinatown, Kekea said.

“It’s been two days, two whole days of looting and protesting and rioting and Honiara is just a small city,” Kekea said of the home to 85,000 people.

“So I think that there’s nothing much left for them to loot and spoil now,” she added.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday committed troops, police and diplomats to help local police restore order and protect critical infrastructure.

Australia would not assist in the protection of the National Parliament and the executive buildings, in a sign that Australia was not taking political sides.

Some observers argue Australia intervened quickly to avoid Chinese security forces moving in to restore order.

But Morrison said Sogavare had asked for help because he trusted Australia.

“The Solomon Islands reached out to us first … as family …read more

Source:: Time – World

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