Tensions over China and Taiwan continuing in Solomon Islands

In Solomon Islands tensions about the country’s change of allegiance from Taiwan to China last year are continuing. Recently, the province of Malaita received aid from Taiwan to assist in dealing with the impacts of Covid-19. The premier of Malaita, Daniel Suidani, was very public in his thanks to Taiwan for this support.

Subsequently, the Foreign Minister of Solomon Islands, Jeremiah Manele, accused Mr Suidani of spreading divisiveness in the country. This was followed by a very strongly worded statement from the Chinese representative in Honiara. He criticised the display of the Taiwanese flag at the handover of the aid supplies and said that for Malaita to continue to recognise Taiwan was an assault on Chinese sovereignty.

When Solomon Islands made the switch from Taiwan to China last year, the Malaitan leadership was highly critical and declared that no Chinese businesses would be allowed to operate in their province.

Bougainville elections and post-referendum negotiations affected by Covid-19

In Bougainville, presidential and legislative assembly elections will be held in August. They have been delayed by the impacts of Covid-19. The current President, John Momis, has made his final speech in the Parliament, having lost his attempt to challenge for a third term.

Although the writs have yet to be issued for the presidential election, there are already 23 candidates in the running and more may yet join the race.

The delay in the elections (which were scheduled to take place this month) mean that negotiations about how to give effect to last year’s overwhelming cote for independence are also behind schedule. There has been some technical work done by officials, including via virtual meetings. The first major summit to negotiate a transition plan for submission to the PNG parliament is scheduled for the first quarter of 2021.

Saga continues at the University of the South Pacific

The saga at the most senior levels of USP continues. An Executive Committee of the University Council claims to have suspended the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Pal Ahluwalia and appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor Derrick Armstrong as acting VC. This has added fuel to the fire among members of the University Council, staff and students.

President Lionel Aingimea of Nauru, the incoming Chancellor of the University, called an extraordinary meeting of the University Council, to be convened virtually. The meeting will be hosted by the New Zealand High Commission in Fiji.

Meanwhile a report into the University’s management processes that was prepared by BDO last year has been leaked to New Zealand journalist, Michael Field. It reveals numerous concerns about hiring practices, consultancy policies and payment of extra allowances to senior staff over an extended period of time.

Papua New Guinea calls for a review of the Lombrum base agreement

In PNG the former Foreign Minister, Patrick Pruaitch, has announced a review of the agreement to redevelop the Lombrum base on Manus island. The agreement to redevelop the naval base was announced during the APEC meeting that was held in Port Moresby in November 2018. It is between the governments of PNG, Australia and the USA.

Pruaitch’s announcement came further to concerns raised by the Governor of Manus, Charlie Benjamin, in Parliament. Governor Benjamin claimed that local businesses were being prevented from working on the project because they did not have Australian tax file numbers.

Mr Pruaitch said that his concern stemmed from the fact that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not been involved in formulating the agreement. Since announcing the review, Pruaitch has been stood down from the Ministry further to the commencement of a leadership inquiry against him.

Former PM to face criminal charges in Vanuatu

In Vanuatu, an application to stay proceedings against the former Prime Minister, Charlot Salwai, has been denied. Mr Salwai is currently deputy leader of the Opposition. He is charged along with current MP and former Minister, Matai Seremiah, the current Minister of Education, Simeon Seule and former MPS, Tomker Netvunei and Jerome Ludvaune.

A Preliminary Inquiry into the charges of bribery, corruption, and perjury will proceed in the Magistrates’ Court later this month.

The charges arise from complaints lodged by Ishmael Kalsakau who was formerly the Leader of the Opposition. Mr Kalsakau is currently the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Internal Affairs.

Parliament sits this week. The Leader of the Opposition has lodged a motion that MPs take a cut in salary as part of addressing the economic impacts of Covid-19. The Deputy Prime Minister has lodged a motion to suspend 22 members of the Opposition after they boycotted Parliament last week.


Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute.