The premier of the South Pacific nation of Solomon Islands’ most populous province has rejected several offers of aid from Beijing.
Analysts say that China is attempting to exert its influence in the South Pacific region by offering aid in the Covid-19 crisis, in the form of vaccine diplomacy or cash, but these offers always come with strings attached.
Such aid, if accepted, then allows China to pressure the recipient state with demands to sign up to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
One provincial premier, Malaita Province’s Daniel Suidani told Sky News Australia he decided to not “take the bribe” from China as he is a representative of his people and acts in their interests.
“I am just a representative – I will always get back to my people and I will always do what they like, in terms of leading the people as a premier of Malaita province,” he said.
The decision is at odds with the Solomons central government’s position to cash in on China’s ambitions in the South Pacific.
Suidani objected to the island group’s switch of diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China. He claimed he was offered bribes by China to support what is popularly known in the Solomons as the “switch” from Taipei to Beijing.
His refusal to support the allegiance switch was made because he believed it went against his constituency’s interests.
He told Sky he was first approached about accepting cash from China after he won office in June 2019.
When asked if he thinks China has used similar bribery tactics to get the central government of the Solomons to switch allegiance he said he was “not sure”.
“What happened in terms of the switch is not clear but there is something going on between the PRC and Solomons that makes them switch without consulting with the people of the nation.”
The Solomon Islands are the latest nation to break diplomatic ties with Taiwan, choosing to take up relations with Beijing instead. Taiwan has lost six allies since President Tsai Ing-wen rose to power in 2016.
The decision to shift diplomatic ties has been unpopular in the Solomon Islands and many citizens have objected to the switch fearing an economic relationship with China would be unmanageable.
There are also concerns that the treatment of religious minorities by Beijing and its one-party system of government conflict with the islands’ Christian views and democratic principles.
According to Al Jazeera English, Suidani has come into conflict with the central government and its formal “One China” policy since pledging to refuse any Chinese investment in his province while also fostering a close partnership with Taiwan.
He is currently in Taiwan undergoing treatment for a suspected brain tumour.
It is alleged that his request for medical assistance from Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was turned down. The government of Taiwan “agreed to Premier Suidani’s visit on the basis of humanitarian concern” a statement from the Taiwanese foreign ministry said.
The trip by Suidani to Taiwan has led to China’s embassy in the capital Honiara raising “concerns” with the Sogavare government.
“China firmly opposes any official contacts in any form between Taiwan and any officials from countries having diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China,” it said in a statement in May.
Australia has its eye on the Solomons too. Conservative Leader Cory Bernardi says Canberra “can’t afford to neglect our own region of the South Pacific”.
The senator says Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made a good start with his multi-million dollar offer of infrastructure investment to the Solomons.