But the CCP won’t stop. The next time ‘people power’ may not be enough to fight off Beijing. And once the PRC has fully eaten the Solomons, it will use it as a jumping off point for its next meal.
On 27 October, CCP interference in the internal politics of the Solomon Islands nearly triggered major violence. It was only thanks to the courage and wisdom of Solomon Islanders that Beijing failed.
The Solomon Islanders did it on their own. No one helped—none of those roaming the region cloaked in the flag of democracy and preaching “values” looked their way. Not the United States, not Australia, not New Zealand, not Taiwan, not India.
The Solomon Islanders saved their own democracy. For now.
But the CCP won’t stop. The next time “people power” may not be enough to fight off Beijing. And once the PRC has fully eaten the Solomons, it will use it as a jumping off point for its next meal.
In September 2019, the Solomon Islands, a country of around 700,000 people off the northeast coast of Australia, switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The central government made the decision without public consultation, and it was widely unpopular, particularly in the most populous province, Malaita.
The Premier of Malaita, Daniel Suidani, clearly stated his concern that if the central government grew closer to Beijing, the Solomons would become more like China—more authoritarian, more prone to destructive resource extraction, more religious oppression, less options and rights for citizens.
In the two years since the CCP moved in, he’s been proven right. Newly arrived Chinese, working for Chinese companies, have distorted the economy, contributing to unemployment, coercion and corruption.
Suidani, concerned about the effect on the people, society and environment, has tried to keep Chinese companies out of his province. The central government has punished him, in part by withholding viable development projects.
A petition to the central government from thousands of Malaitans outlined a range of other punishments visited on their province, including the central “government continually harasses the [local] government of Malaita through individuals, the media and even through the abuse of legal process”.
Respected senior leader Hon. Peter Kenilorea Jr., former Permanent Secretary, the Solomon Islands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade said: “We in the Pacific Islands say we are on the front line of climate change—we are also on the front line of the aggression from the Chinese Communist Party. The political warfare is on. The geopolitical front line is in our tiny nation of the Solomon Islands, and even within the provinces within the Solomons. We have one province [Malaita] that has been targeted and harassed—this is a real everyday occurrence.”
THE VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE
The showdown came on 27 October. Local proxies of the pro-Chinese factions in the central government tried to table a vote of no confidence against Premier Suidani in the Malaita provincial legislature.
What happened next was described by Kenilorea: “Thousands of Malaita Province people took to the streets in Auki, the Administrative capital of the province, in a powerful show of solidarity in support for Premier Daniel Suidani. Villagers with very little money contributed towards purchase of fuel for transportation into Auki. The people called on their respective members of the provincial assembly to support Premier Suidani.”
“Their frustration over the inaction of their elected representatives to move towards showing support for Suidani reached a boil-over point. That their elected representatives still decided to go against the wishes of their respective electorates was an indication that promises of riches would have been made to these elected representatives to have made them so stubborn in the face of clear calls from their respective electorates to not move the motion and support Premier Suidani.”
“These elected representatives who filed the motion stayed together in a hotel surrounded by security detail. They were definitely funded to have such logistical details in place.”
“The police, fearing the real possibility of the breakout of violence, brokered a withdrawal of the motion with the mover. The motion of no confidence filed against Premier Suidani was withdrawn on the same day it was to be tabled. This was a wise and timely decision by the police and all the leaders concerned. This action averted certain violence erupting in Auki.”
“The withdrawal of the motion was seen as a crushing defeat to the sponsors of the motion against Suidani, which included, the national government and the CCP.”
“At the last parliament sitting Prime Minister Sogavare stated in parliament, with regards to the diplomatic switch, that only a minority of Malaitans supported Premier Suidani. He stated that the national government had made the decision to switch already. And that the people of Malaita should not hit their heads against a brick wall as they will hurt themselves.”
“Through their people power which resulted in the withdrawal of the motion of no confidence by the mover, the overwhelming majority of the people of Malaita have shown that they are with Premier Suidani on the matter relating to the switch. They are so supportive of Taiwan. They are so supportive of democracy.”
On that day, women of Malaita sat in front of the entrance to the legislature to block the entry of those wanting to table the motion. It was an act of civil disobedience in the protection of their legislature, of their democracy, from what they saw as an attack from outside.
Since then, Elijah Asilaua, the Member of the Provincial Assembly who was to table the vote of no confidence, apologized for his actions and asked forgiveness for working against the will of the people. Premier Suidani also apologized—to Asilaua for the actions of the crowd, and thanked him for withdrawing the motion.
They are trying to knit their province—their people—back together, with courage and wisdom. Like real leaders.
CRISIS AVERTED OR DELAYED?
The CCP doesn’t take “crushing defeats” well—especially ones that show the power of democracy in the face of coercion. The people of Malaita fought their own battle but, in the process, they fought for us all. They showed you can stand up for what’s right, and win. It’s Beijing’s worst nightmare.
Given the CCP’s doctrine of unrestricted warfare, it is only a matter of time before it comes back, hard, from multiple vectors, and tries to complete the takeover. Just a few days ago, the newly registered Solomon Islands Chinese Business Council met the Prime Minister.
The people of Malaita—and the many others in the Solomons trying to keep their country free—need support of all sorts. They need people to talk about them. They need other countries to ask the central government to explain what it’s doing. They need diplomatic support. They need training and education programs. And they really, really need development, investment and supply chains that aren’t run by Beijing.
They are on the front line, and they need supplies.
So, what are we going to do about it?
Cleo Paskal is a The Sunday Guardian Special Correspondent as well as Non-Resident Senior Fellow for the Indo-Pacific at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.