Solomon Islands is a country consisting of islands located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It is a constitutional monarchy, the Head of State being Queen Elizabeth II and the current Prime Minister is Manasseh Sogavare.
Solomon Islands was engulfed in ethnic violence from 1998 to 2003 between rebels and the Malaitan people on the island of Guadalcanal. Malaitans have been migrating to the capital city of Honiara for better economic opportunities resulting in the minority community to become dominant over the native islanders. The Tensions, as the period is known, was riddled with violent clashes. In 2000, the then Prime Minister, Bartholomew Ulufa’alu, was overthrown in a coup and succeeded by Sogavare. Later that year, a peace accord was signed under the supervision of New Zealand and Australian forces.
After the general elections held in 2001, Allen Kemakaze became the Prime Minister. The tensions had severely impacted the economy of the country. Political and civil instability still prevailed. To combat this, Kemakaze requested assistance from the Pacific Islands Forum. The countries of the Pacific came together to form the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) under Australia’s leadership. The RAMSI deployed forces to help with the law and order situation. The country’s recovery was being supported by foreign aid from Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union.
Violent anti-government riots broke out after the 2006 elections, during which Honiara was looted and burned. The new Prime Minister resigned and Sogavare came into power. He was opposed the RAMSI’s presence. Sogavare lost confidence in 2007 and was replaced. Elections were held in 2010 and Danny Philip became the Prime Minister. He resigned in less than a year on allegations of corruption and was succeeded by Gordon Darcy Lilo.
RAMSI ended its military operations in July, 2013 but left personnel to continue to help. In the elections held in 2014, Sogavare came back into power. RAMSI officially ended its operations in 2017.
The tensions had left the economy in shambles. The 2007 earthquake and tsunami further worsened economic conditions. The majority of the workforce is engaged in the service sector. Solomon Islands has a wealth of natural resources such as fish, timber, bauxite, phosphates and some reserves of gold. These resources are heavily exported. Traditional handicrafts, including mats, jewellery, baskets, woodwork are made both for tourists and for export. Other exports include plantation crops like cacao. The major export destination is China.
Singapore, China and Australia are the major suppliers of food, goods, machinery and fuel.
Solomon Islands was maintaining diplomatic relations with Taiwan, separate from China. After Sogavare’s re-election in 2019, the central government withdrew recognition from the Republic of China, i.e., Taiwan and recognised China as the official authority.
On November 24, 2021, a curfew was imposed after protesters, reportedly from the island of Malaita, attempted to storm the Parliament in Honiara. The protesters had partially burned down a police building and other buildings in the Parliament area. The protesters were calling for Sogavare’s resignation.
The immediate reason of the protests appears to be the diplomatic switch from Taiwan to China. The island of Malaita has alleged that the central government has been neglecting them. Many communities had formed deep business ties with Taiwan and they have been affected when the central government withdrew recognition in 2019. It is also alleged that the presence of Chinese businesses, including those from Hong Kong and Taiwan, are taking away jobs from the locals and fuelling corruption. The central government received more than half a billion of aid from China after the switch in 2019. The island of Malaita, however, was receiving financial help directly from Taiwan. It is also being supported by the US, which backs Taiwan with military support against China.
The central government formally requested assistance. Australia has sent forces to help with the situation. Papa New Guinea has also sent peacekeeping forces and Fiji has promised to send troops as well.
The power struggle between China and the US has affected relations in the Indo-Pacific region, Solomon Islands being no exception. The diplomatic switch caused Solomon Islands to fall into a geopolitical struggle. While the central government supports China, the local government of Malaita has banned Chinese businesses from the province and depends on the US for financial aid. Solomon Islands is in a state of uneasy calm.