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Ties with Taiwan in Solomon Islands' interests: MOFA

2019/09/03 22:07:35

Chang Chun-yu, MOFA's deputy head of the Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Taipei, Sept. 3 (CNA) The majority of parliament members of the Solomon Islands and its citizens still support Taiwan, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said Tuesday, expressing belief that the Solomon Islands' parliament will realize that it is in its best interests to maintain ties with Taiwan.

The Solomon Islands is one of the six Pacific diplomatic allies of the Republic of China (Taiwan). However, relations came under the spotlight when the new government of the Solomon Islands began to assess the viability of switching ties to Beijing after its general election in April.

According to a Reuters report Monday, a Solomon Islands task force charged with evaluating possible China ties will submit an assessment report to Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and to its parliament's Foreign Relations Committee this week, fueling speculation that Honiara might switch political allegiance soon.

In a Tuesday press conference, however, Chang Chun-yu (張均宇), MOFA's deputy head of the Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, stressed that Taiwan's communication and coordination with the Pacific ally are smooth and unhindered.

Chang said MOFA will invite significant figures from Honiara to visit Taiwan soon, so that the two sides can have exchanges on bilateral and regional issues and demonstrate their good relations.

Regarding bilateral relations between Taipei and Honiara, Chang said Taiwan has been assisting the Solomon Islands in areas such as agriculture, education and clean energy since the establishment of diplomatic ties 36 years ago.

Aside from current cooperation projects, Taiwan is also reviewing other requests made by the Solomon Islands, Chang said.

Meanwhile, a retired Taiwanese diplomat told CNA that pressure from China to lure away Taiwan's diplomatic allies is always there.

"The prospect of keeping the Solomon Islands may not be optimistic, but a breaking of ties might not happen soon," the seasoned diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

If Beijing wants to influence Taiwan's upcoming presidential election, which will be held in January 2020, or embarrass Taiwan ahead of the election, then the timing of snatching another ally from Taiwan would not be now, he said.

Besides, if Honaira really intends to part ways with Taiwan, it will likely do it clandestinely and not by announcing it through the media, he said.

It is very likely that the recommendation of the Solomon task force on its diplomatic preference will not be favorable for Taiwan, the retired diplomat said. However, he added, the decision on whether to switch allegiance will depend largely on Sogavare, who has been a good friend to Taiwan since the tenure of former President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

The reason why Sogavare set up the task force was to tame clamor from his opposition, he said.

The Solomon Islands is the biggest diplomatic ally of Taiwan in the Pacific, and therefore a significant target for China to embarrass Taiwan and to shift internal political pressure faced by Beijing, especially when Hong Kong is in jeopardy and China's Oct.1 National Day is approaching.

Taking another diplomatic ally away from Taiwan may not be good for Beijing either, because it may translate into an additional financial burden at a time when China's economy is not as favorable as before, the retired diplomat said.

Aside from that, it might disgruntle Australia, which maintains close relations with the Solomon Islands and sees China as a threat to its scope of influence in the Pacific, he said.

(By Elaine Hou and Emerson Lim)
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