Solomon Islands hopes decision on ties with Taiwan by next week

According to the report, a copy of which has been obtained by CNA, the task force recommends the Solomon Islands government switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China by mid-September, before Beijing celebrates the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1. (Shutterstock)
According to the report, a copy of which has been obtained by CNA, the task force recommends the Solomon Islands government switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China by mid-September, before Beijing celebrates the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1. (Shutterstock)

HONIARA, Solomon (CNA) — The Solomon Islands said Friday it hopes to make a decision by Sept. 21 on whether to switch recognition to China and cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare called a meeting Friday to discuss the possibility of switching diplomatic allegiance to Beijing.

Alex Akwai, press secretary to the Prime Minister’s office, told the press that the meeting did not reach any conclusion and will continue on Sept. 17.

Akwai said the Cabinet hopes to make a decision on the matter before the prime minister departs for New York to attend the United Nation’s General Assembly on Sept. 21.

Sogavare originally convened the meeting, at which lawmakers from the Solomon Island’s Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement were also present, to discuss a report submitted by a cross-party task force which recommends the nation should cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

However, some attendees told CNA the meeting only heard a briefing from John Moffat Fugui, leader of the cross-party task force, on the report and no discussions have yet been held.

According to the report, a copy of which has been obtained by CNA, the task force recommends the Solomon Islands government switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China by mid-September, before Beijing celebrates the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1.

The report said the normalization of ties between Honiara and Beijing represents adherence to the “One China Policy/Principle” and both countries expect to strengthen their bilateral relationship by exchanging embassies.

The Solomon Islands, one of Taiwan’s 17 diplomatic allies, has been reviewing bilateral ties since its new government took office in April.

According to a recent report from Reuters, the cross-party task force charged with evaluating Taiwan ties returned from a tour of Pacific nations allied to China just before a mid-August visit to Beijing by eight Solomons Islands’ ministers and the prime minister’s private secretary.

Speaking with CNA, Republic of China (Taiwan) Ambassador to the Solomon Islands Oliver Liao (廖文哲) said that in the wake of the cross-party task force’s report, Taiwan’s embassy mobilized pro-Taiwan lawmakers in Honiara to voice support for Taipei.

Before making a final decision on whether the country will shift recognition to China, Sogavare will review four reports — the cross-party task force report, a report from the parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee, a report from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, and a report from the prime minister’s office.

With Sogavare scheduled to depart for the U.N. General Assembly later this month and expected to meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, pro-China Solomon lawmakers expressed hope that the prime minister will make a decision on ties with Taiwan before leaving in a bid to avoid any attempt by Washington to exert influence.

In Washington, a source told CNA the United States fears the severing of ties between Taiwan and the Solomon Islands will hurt U.S. interests in the region, and Pence wants to take advantage of the chance to meet with Sogavare at the U.N. to lobby him to maintain the status quo.

However, the source said if Honiara makes the decision before Sogavare departs for New York, Pence will only be able to express the U.S. stance on the matter to the prime minister and the meeting will likely make no difference.

In an interview with CNA, Catherine Ebert-Gray, U.S. ambassador to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, said Wednesday that Taiwan has been an exceptional partner to the Solomon Islands, and Washington supports the continuation of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Also on Wednesday, David Helvey, U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, voiced concerns about ties between Honiara and Taipei at the conclusion of a forum held by the Global Taiwan Institute, a think tank based in the U.S. that focuses on Taiwan affairs.

Helvey said maintaining diplomatic partners is one way for Taiwan to ensure it is not isolated from the international community and ensure peace and stability in the region.

By Shih Hsiu-chuan, Chiang Chin-yeh and Frances Huang