Replaced Sogavare rival accuses Solomons leader of conspiring with Beijing

Singapore: One of the strongest critics of the Solomon Islands’ close ties with Beijing has been replaced, clearing the way for greater Chinese influence in the country.

The office of former Malaita premier Daniel Suidani has accused Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of conspiring with China to have him removed after he campaigned against Chinese investment and opposed a landmark security deal that could allow Chinese defence forces to be based on the islands.

Former Solomon Islands premier Daniel Suidani.

Suidani lost a vote of no confidence in the Malaita regional assembly on Tuesday, triggering small protests in Solomon’s most populous province. Suidani lodged an appeal with the High Court, but the court dismissed the appeal on Friday, making it possible for Sogavare ally Martin Gaote’e Fini to be elected.

Suidani’s adviser Celsus Talifilu claimed the vote was driven by Sogavare’s national government after Suidani split with Honiara to condemn the security deal with Beijing and its diplomatic switch from Taiwan to China.

“Since day one this province has been under attack in numerous forms,” said Talifilu.

“The Speaker has aligned himself with their side to overthrow the Malaita government. This has been supported by the national government under the influence of China.”

The motion of no confidence against Suidani accused him of inappropriately using government finances for personal expenses and of soliciting money from a Chinese company.

Manesseh Sogavare and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in October.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Suidani has denied the allegations. The deputy leader of the national opposition, Peter Kenilorea, has previously claimed that government MPs were offered bribes of more than $200,000 to switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China in 2019. The switch preceded infrastructure deals and the security agreement with Beijing that also allows Chinese police to provide public order training to protect their investments.

Talifilu, a former adviser to Sogavare, said the national government has “not been happy about the stand Malaita province has taken against Chinese companies and Chinese funding”.

“Some of us have been standing strong against the interests of China in the province,” he said.

Sogavare’s office was contacted for comment. The Chinese government has maintained its security deal and investment in the Solomon Islands is to “safeguard the interests of developing countries”. China is a major funder of this year’s Pacific Island Games in Honiara and has built schools, hospitals and highways across the country. The investment has triggered a response from Australia and the United States, which have both pledged millions of dollars in infrastructure in the impoverished and strategically important nation.

Mihai Sora, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute, said Suidani had made himself a “target from 2019 onwards”.

“Suidani was quite obstructionist to the central government’s program of increased cooperation with China, so he did what he could to block activities in his province,” said Sora.

“The dynamics around a motion of no confidence is really about cutting deals and trying to win the support of MPs so that you can defeat the motion. It’s a real horse-trading kind of period. Logically, the forces against Suidani that are being driven by the central government would have more resources at their disposal.”

Sora said the Australian government would be watching the developments closely.

“If there is less pressure on Sogavare from an internal position, he might feel like he can deliver the agenda he wants for the Solomon Islands. A lot of that runs counter to Australia’s security and strategic interests,” he said.

“But if Sogavare is more relaxed, then that may make things a bit easier for Canberra.”

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