Solomon Islands' Malaita forms bond with China's Jiangsu, embracing development, goodwill

A memorandum of understanding to establish friendly exchange relations was signed last week between Malaita Province of the Solomon Islands and East China's Jiangsu Province in Auki, the provincial capital of Malaita. This new chapter follows years of skepticism, indicating a pivot toward cooperation and mutual growth, analysts noted.

The ceremony on April 4 was attended by nearly 40 people, including Chinese representatives, the ambassador, and provincial legislators and officials from Malaita, the Global Times learned from the Chinese Embassy in the Solomon Islands.

Cai Weiming, the Chinese Ambassador to the Solomon Islands, stated that China would actively promote friendly provincial cooperation with the Solomon Islands central government and Malaita's government. This includes projects like construction of the Auki Road, broadband networks, and sustainable rural development, aiming to foster economic and social advancement locally and benefit the people of Malaita and beyond.

Jiangsu Province is renowned for its economic prosperity, ranking second in GDP in China at more than 12 trillion yuan ($1.74 trillion) in 2023.

On the same day, a ceremony for the handover of livelihood supplies from Jiangsu to Malaita took place in Auki. Ambassador Cai, on behalf of Jiangsu, delivered essential items like water tanks, solar lamps, and fishing nets to Malaita's governor, Martin Fini.

Cai said that the donation from Jiangsu to Malaita injects new vigor into their collaboration, expressing hope that it will play a positive role in the province's development. He emphasized that the cooperation between Solomon Islands and China is not about exploitation or creating debt traps, but about sharing development opportunities.

Governor Fini thanked China for its generous support, noting that the supplies would alleviate local hardships and improve living conditions. Malaita is keen to deepen cooperation with Jiangsu, fostering continuous socio-economic growth and contributing to the bilateral relations between the two nations.

During a visit to the Kilusakwalo community in Malaita Province, Ambassador Cai and China's Special Envoy for Pacific Island Affairs Qian Bo were greeted with traditional dances and songs, demonstrating the warm local welcome.

Previously, Malaita had a unique political stance within the Solomon Islands, showing skepticism toward closer bilateral ties with China. However, four years of constructive engagement with China has sparked real hope for development in the Solomon Islands.

The two countries established diplomatic ties on September 21, 2019. Half a month later, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare paid his first visit to China, during which the Solomon Islands officially joined the Belt and Road Initiative.

Currently, key initiatives include a Chinese-funded comprehensive medical center, which broke ground in December 2023 and is advancing rapidly, promising enhanced healthcare services for the locals.

In November last year, the Solomon Islands successfully hosted the Pacific Games in a stadium built with Chinese aid. Additionally, the Chinese Navy hospital ship Peace Ark provided medical services in Honiara, and the police cooperation between the Solomon Islands and China has improved local social stability.

These tangible benefits have gradually warmed the Malaitians to China, with a recent poll showing 61 percent of respondents favor maintaining the relationship after this year's elections.

Local experts said that Malaita's shift indicates a deep-rooted recognition of China.

"The China-Solomon Islands relationship, forged under very trying conditions, is now maturing," Dr Luke Mani, director of the Solomon Islands Foreign Policy Advisory Secretariat, told the Global Times. "Evidence abounds that Solomon Islanders [have now] firmly and openly embraced China."

Various infrastructure projects funded by traditional multilateral development partners such as the Munda Airport and terminal upgrades, Henderson Airport runway extensions, and East-West Honiara highway have benefited from the expertise and quality of Chinese engineering firms such as China Civil Engineering Construction Company and China Railway, Mani said.

The former premier of Malaita Province, Daniel Suidani, attracted attention for his opposition to the Solomon Islands' relations with China. His stance led to conflicts with the central government, culminating in his removal from office in February 2023, following a no-confidence motion passed by the provincial assembly.

Suidani also maintained close ties with the island of Taiwan. In May 2021, he traveled to Taipei for medical treatment, a move that was condemned by the Solomon Islands' government as "unauthorized."

These political tensions sparked demonstrations and riots, particularly in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. In 2021, residents of Malaita and other islands expressed opposition to the Solomon Islands government's decision to establish diplomatic relations with China, leading to violent incidents. Parts of Honiara, especially the Chinatown in the city center, were burned and looted, resulting in significant losses for Chinese nationals.

Days after the riots, Prime Minister Sogavare told the press that the crisis was "influenced and encouraged by other powers." He further indicated that these forces influencing Malaita, the main island of the nation, are those that "don't want ties with the People's Republic of China," according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

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