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Pacific links: dividends of a diplomatic switch, O’Neill warrant, more

Taiwan looks to shore up support in the region, plus other stories from across the Pacific Islands.

Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and China’s Xi Jinping on 8 October in Beijing (Photo: Sheng Jiapeng/VCG/Getty Images)
Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and China’s Xi Jinping on 8 October in Beijing (Photo: Sheng Jiapeng/VCG/Getty Images)

  • Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare returned from his first trip to China since diplomatic ties opened last month, having signed five memorandums of understanding, including an agreement for Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative”.

    With the switch in Solomons away from Taiwan, activity related to China is now jumping. First, China is believed to have agreed to write off the remaining $10 million (US$1.2 million) in Taiwan’s EXIM Bank loan, which Solomon Islands obtained about two decades ago. In addition, the country’s Central Province has agreed to lease on long term the whole island of Tulagi to Chinese firm China Sam Enterprise Group Ltd, which is supposed to be developed into a “Special Economic Zone”.

    At the same time, Gold Ridge, a gold mine that shut down in 2014, is being revived with a US$825 million deal, with one of China’s biggest state-owned companies to rebuild infrastructure and take on production. The deal was finalised just as Honiara made its diplomatic switch from Taiwan to China. As a result, Solomon Islands’ Chamber of Commerce is now embracing the opportunity to explore more what this new relationship with China will offer.
  • Among all the Chinese companies engaged in the Pacific, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) has been winning many contracts in the region. Maybe too many? In Vanuatu, the Builders Construction and Allied Industries Association have questioned a decision to award a tender to construct the new Ministry of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM) Office in Luganville to the Chinese company. On a sidenote, Vanuatu has also named a new High Commissioner to Australia.
  • Taiwan and the US are to co-host the first Pacific Islands Dialogue in Taipei. According to the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Hsu Szu-chien, the forum aims to foster closer relations between Taiwan and those countries with which it has diplomatic ties by promoting regional stability and shared values. Before the event, the US State Department issued a communique describing US engagement in the Pacific under the Trump administration. In addition, last week, the US has sent a delegation to Palau to review the Compact of Free Association signed between both countries. In the Marshall Islands – another Compact state – the US government has announced $1.6 million in funding to investigate the water surrounding a radioactive dome on Enewetak Atoll.
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Fiji last week and held bilateral talks with Frank Bainimarama to discuss military co-operation, combatting illegal fishing, and easing import restrictions on kava. Climate change, which has proven to be a thorny issue between the two countries, was not discussed in the meeting. Here is the media release.
  • Papua New Guinea’s politics has been shaken again over the past fortnight. First, the economic situation – which Prime Minister James Marape had already described as “struggling and bleeding” – has been declared worse than expected. At the same time, asylum seekers on Manus Island who were offered the possibility to transfer to Port Moresby were complaining they were “forced into poverty”. Then on Tuesday it was announced that former prime minister Peter O’Neill is the subject to a warrant of arrest.
  • Kiribati has eliminated lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem, thanks to years of efforts of its Ministry of Health.
  • Bougainville’s Leonard Fong Roka explains how the Panguna mine has changed the nature of people of his islands over the years.
  • Finally, if you are in Sydney this weekend, you should watch the latest movie of Tim Cole, Small Islands Big Song, which collects recordings of first nation musicians of the Pacific and beyond to draw on the depths of their heritage.

Pacific Research Program

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