U.S. and Australian attempts to outdo Beijing in gaining the Solomon Islands’ favor seem to be failing after the most populous Malaita Province promised to get rid of the Auki Communique, a safeguard against Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interference in the region.
New Premier Martin Fini is considering the removal of the document after his government overthrew former premier—and fierce critic of Beijing—Daniel Suidani, who was ousted in a contentious no-confidence vote.
“Yes, the removal of the Auki Communique is on the agenda. That document serves no useful purpose except to block Malaita and its resources from beneficial economic development through investment,” said a government insider in an interview with the pro-national government newspaper, the Solomon Star, on Feb. 17.
“We will put it aside. This will show that Malaita will be open to investors from everywhere. The people of Malaita need development, and as their representative government, we will facilitate it.”
Province Takes A Stand Against Beijing
The Auki Communique was issued under provincial Malaita leader Suidani in 2019 in response to the national government’s decision to switch official diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing.
Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has since increased business, security, and military cooperation with Beijing while also openly accepting aid from the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.
The Auki Communique contained several clauses designed to protect Malaita from Chinese interference or influence. It mentioned the need to be free from “unwarranted interference of persons” and the rejection of the CCP and its “formal systems based on atheist ideology.” It also pointed to issues with the national government’s approach to the development of Malaita.
Under the agreement, then-Premier Suidani blocked the redesign and construction of Fiu Bridge, as well as tar-sealing work to be done in Auki township, due to a Chinese engineering firm winning the bid.
The Solomon Star reports that the new Malaita government will visit the national capital Honiara to discuss ways of accelerating the development while also targeting Suidani’s advisor Celsus Talifilu.
“He should now take the back seat and do something useful instead of using social media to attack the new government.”
Rebel Leader Ousted in Contentious Circumstances
On Feb. 7, Suidani was removed by 17 assembly members of the provincial assembly in a no-confidence vote.
Talifu said the premier and his executive were not present at the vote because they were waiting for the results of a court case against the no-confidence motion.
“But unfortunately, while they were still waiting for the decision of the court, the speaker allowed the proceedings to go ahead,” Talifilu told Radio NZ.
“Only the 17 of them were attending the meeting, and then the motion was moved, and it was passed, and the premier therefore lost,” he said.
Scuffles erupted outside the assembly in protest of the vote. In turn, the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) fired tear gas into the crowd.
The RSIPF was deployed to the area in advance of the vote, with authorities anticipating an angry response.
“National government using overwhelming police power to get Sudani out,” Talifilu wrote on LinkedIn. “Security support from donors like Australia and China now put to use.”