Solomons imbroglio takes new twist as PM says he will visit Taiwan

The China Post staff and Reuters

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday accepted an apology from the Solomon Islands over the recent misunderstandings in bilateral relations. It also welcomed the forthcoming visit by Solomon Prime Minister Mannasseh Sogavare to Taiwan at the end of this month. In answer to questions raised by a New Party legislator yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Tien Hung-mao said Prime Minister Sogavare had met with the ROC ambassador to the Solomons to apologize for the release of an emotionally-worded statement on Thursday. The statement blamed Taiwan for the recent tensions in the bilateral ties and even criticized Minister Tien, saying he was inexperienced in handling matters between the two nations. The MOFA on Thursday lodged a strong protest with the Solomons government. In response, Sogavare’s office issued another statement yesterday afternoon to clarify the earlier statement, saying it was released without official authorization. In the latest statement, Sogavare stressed that there will be no change in the Solomon Islands’ relations with Taipei. The prime minister will visit Taiwan instead of attending the South Pacific Forum meeting in Tarawa, Kiribati at the end of October.

MOFA spokesman Henry Chen said the ministry welcomed the apology from the Solomons and Sogavare’s planned visit to Taipei. He also expressed hope that bilateral relations will develop in more positive directions in the future. Sogavare’s visit to Taipei is expected to help smooth relations soured by reports that the South Pacific nation might switch its diplomatic ties to mainland China. The Solomons sparked new speculation last week when Foreign Minister Danny Philip snubbed Taiwan, its diplomatic partner of 17 years, when he canceled a planned visit to Taipei to attend the ROC’s National Day celebrations and instead went to Hong Kong to meet Beijing officials.

“The prime minister and foreign minister have apologized personally to the ROC ambassador in Honiara for the misunderstanding,” the statement from Sogavare’s office said. Meanwhile, the statement said Sogavare also apologized on behalf of the Solomons government for wrongly suggesting the Tien had been inexperienced in handling matters between Honiara and Taipei, in light of the ethnic tensions on Guadalcanal.”

“The trip to Taipei is nothing more than a desire for increased cooperation between the two countries based on mutual trust,” said the statement.

The Solomon Islands government said this week it was seeking additional money to fund commitments made under a peace treaty signed between the two warring ethnic militias.

Requests to Taiwan for an increase in aid from US$10 million to US$200 million for post-war reconstruction were rebuffed, and the Solomons said it had been forced to look elsewhere. MOFA officials in Taipei said the two sides have not yet come up with any specific figure for the financial aid. The warring militias signed a peace agreement in Townsville, Australia, on Sunday that calls for disarmament and repatriation of militiamen back to their home villages.

The Malaita Eagles Force and Isatabu Freedom Movement have fought a two-year battle over land rights on the main island of Guadalcanal, leading to the deaths of about 70 people and the evacuation of thousands of foreigners.