Solomon Islands province announces independence vote amid China tensions

Solomon Islands province announces independence vote amid China tensions

Malaita’s promised poll pits pro-Taiwan province against a pro-Beijing national government

The largest province in Solomon Islands has announced plans for an independence referendum as tensions with the country’s national government over China policy rise.

Malaita, a province of 200,000 people in the country’s east, “will soon conduct a provincial-wide referendum on the topic of independence”, a statement from premier Daniel Suidani said on Tuesday.

In a phone interview with the Guardian, Suidani confirmed the plan, saying a vote would be held as soon as this month.When China came calling: inside the Solomon Islands switchRead more

The referendum plan comes after a year of tensions between Suidani’s provincial government, which is supportive of Taiwan, and Solomon Islands’ national government which has adopted a pro-Beijing stance.

The internal division over China policy falls along similar cultural, ethnic and political fault lines that led to civil unrest in Solomon Islands between 1998 and 2003, resulting in a fourteen year Australian-led peacekeeping mission which concluded in 2017.

In September last year, Solomon Islands’ national government, led by four-time prime minister Manasseh Sogavare, ended a 36-year alliance with Taiwan and instead normalised ties with Beijing.

Malaitans protested against the national government’s decision at the time, citing China’s animus towards Christians and an undemocratic political system. A deeply religious island, Malaita had enjoyed close ties with Taiwan over decades.

Sudaini said his government would resist “continued pressure from the national government for Malaita to accept [China] into Malaita province”.

“The government cannot hear the cry of the people,” he told the Guardian. “We are tired and sick of a government that doesn’t listen to the people of Malaita.”

Solomon Islands closed its international borders in March because of the global coronavirus pandemic: it has yet to record a single Covid-19 case.