Apr 26, 2006 | 23:33 GMT

2 mins read

China, Taiwan: 'Checkbook Diplomacy' in the Islands

The Solomon Islands' Prime Minister Snyder Rini, whose election victory last week sparked riots in the islands, resigned April 26. His resignation will quell the riots, but the problems of China and Taiwan's "checkbook diplomacy" foreign policy among the Pacific Islands will continue, and China seems to have the bigger wallet.
Snyder Rini, who was elected as the Solomon Islands' prime minister April 20, resigned April 26. His election prompted riots in which people torched businesses in Chinatown in the Solomon Islands' capital of Honiara on April 20. During this time of chaos, China is forwarding its reputation as a responsible actor in the South Pacific by chartering planes to fly Chinese refugees from the Solomon Islands to safety on the mainland. The Solomon Islands currently recognizes Taiwan, rather than mainland China, as the legitimate Chinese government. It is a common assumption that both Taipei and Beijing buy off South Pacific leaderships to garner recognition; specifically, it is alleged that Taiwanese money helped Rini's election. The April 20 protests in Honiara were in response to the corruption of leaders who are seen as showing more allegiance to foreign powers than to their own citizens. Recently, Chinaese Premier Wen Jiabao made a trip to the South Pacific and made a show of writing checks to development and infrastructure projects to the islands that recognize the mainland's one-China policy — namely Fiji, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. This "checkbook diplomacy" will continue, despite calls by foreign nations — particularly Australia, which is the country left policing the South Pacific — not to interfere in the islands' domestic politics. Rini was forced to resign after members of his administration, persuaded by promises from the opposition that Commerce Minister Manasseh Sogavare would take the mantle from him, switched allegiances. Sogavare may be more likable than Rini, but he too has ties to Chinese businesses. After China's spending spree in the South Pacific, there is a very good possibility that Sogavare — if he remains in power — will do the common flip-flop in the South Pacific and switch the country's allegiance from Taiwan to China in the name of helping the people so as to cash in on China's development funds. Chinese and Taiwanese interference in the Solomon Islands is inevitable; a certain amount of symbolic legitimacy for both countries is still tied up in the poverty-stricken South Pacific as it is the battleground for a Sino-Taiwanese ideological war. This battle will continue, and at present, China has the larger war chest.

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