Conflict Alerts # 462, 2 December 2021
Solomon Islands: Continuing civil unrest and the growing protests in the islands
In the news
On 26 November, the government in the Solomon Islands announced that the curfew in the capital - Honiara would continue indefinitely. Australian Defence Force (ADF) troops arrived in Honiara with the Royal Australian Navy patrolling boat HMAS Armidale to the island. Papua New Guinea also deployed a security team to the island.
On 27 November, Fiji dispatched about 50 troops to reinforce the Australian Defence Force under their partnership. Three charred bodies were discovered in a store in the Chinatown district that led to more than 100 people being arrested.
On 1 December, New Zealand's government announced to send dozens of peacekeepers after the Solomon Islands sent a request for help. Earlier, On 24 November, the New Zealand government announced an immediate response to help restore peace and stability in the Solomon Islands. The announcement came after the government in the Solomon Islands requested assistance from New Zealand to maintain security in the capital.
Issues at large
First, the internal divide within the Solomon Islands. In the 1990s, Malaitans were being intimidated, and a campaign of violence was perpetrated against them by the Guales or the Guadalcanal islanders. This led to Australia and New Zealand intervening during 2003-2017. These ethnic, geographical divides have been further accelerated by a perceived unequal distribution of resources that renewed discontentment between the islands. Malaita is one of the least developed provinces due to the lack of economic support. The discontent grew after the central government decided to shift the country's allegiance in 2019 from Taipei to Beijing.
Second, the external shift in allegiance. Taiwan accuses China of bribing politicians in the islands to vote in favour of China. China has been one of the largest investors in the islands and had even offered to lease Tulagi island. But, the attorney general of the Solomon Islands ruled the proceedings illegal. China signed five MoU's including an agreement to the Belt and Road initiative after the 36-year relationship with Taiwan. The shift away from Taiwan left the people angry, especially those on the Malaita island. Malaita's premier continued to maintain relations with Taiwan and receive support, while the central government reiterated its support to China. Manasseh Sogavare's election in 2019 opened up Chinese investments to the country, while till then, the people predominantly in Malaita had benefited from the Taiwanese projects.
Third, Australia's intervention. Australia and the Solomon Islands have signed a security treaty in 2017 and had received a request for assistance under it. This treaty allows Australian police, civilian personal, and defence to intervene in the Solomon Islands in an emergency. This is not the first time Australia intervened in the Solomon Islands; the last was in 2003-2017, which was authorized by the Pacific Island Forum declaration.
First, the issues between the two islands need to be resolved systematically, implementing policies to bring equal resource-sharing support and mediation between the ethnic communities. Second, Beijing and Taipei will continue to be contentious issues until the political parties on the island stop using it as an opportunity to win votes. This historical discontentment can only be partially resolved with structural changes in the administration of both islands.
Third, the Prime Minister blames foreign influences to be the cause of unrest and protests but, he reiterated his support for Beijing over Taiwan. This would likely further complicate the situation as Taiwan had integrated itself with a visible development program with the people of Malaita. Fourth, Australia's swift intervention has brought a sense of temporary order to the islands, but they hope that this would be a short intervention as the last time they spent more than a decade.