Solomon Islands PM Accuses Australia of Cutting Funding, Says Beijing Will Step-In

By Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Writer
Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at daniel.teng@epochtimes.com.au.
July 17, 2023Updated: July 18, 2023

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has accused Australia and New Zealand of cutting off aid funding and now says Beijing will step in.

Mr. Sogavare made the claims upon his return to Honiara after a week-long visit to China, where he met with communist leadership.

The prime minister, who has actively sought to deepen relations with Beijing, has maintained a fiery relationship with traditional democratic allies, at one point last year accusing the Australian government of “foreign interference” in the islands’ affairs.

Upon returning from his latest trip, Sogavare claimed Australia had delayed a $12 million funding allocation for the Solomons budget and accused New Zealand of doing the same with $15 million.

“Some of our donor partners who have committed to providing budget support to us this year have since changed their position and delayed their assistance for us, and we are struggling to finance the 2023 budget,” he told reporters in Honiara on July 17.

“This has left this country and people in a predicament. But I am glad to announce and delighted to announce the People’s Republic of China has really stepped up to provide this budget support needed for 2023.”

Australian authorities have outright denied any delay in funding.

“Australia has delivered on our budget support commitments to the Solomon Islands this year,” a spokesperson told The Australian.

Solomon, Beijing Ties Taken to New Level

Prime Minister Sogavare’s comments cap off a week-long trip in Beijing, where his government signed several deals with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) across areas such as security, trade, civil aviation, and sports.

Chinese leader Xi pledged a “new era” between the governments while accusing Western leaders of propagating a “Cold War mentality and hegemony.”

The building of relations between the CCP and Sogavare is aimed at shoring up wider cooperation across the Pacific region, according to Niu Li, executive director at the Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Late last year, the Solomon Islands government agreed to borrow 448.9 million yuan (US$66.15 million) from the Chinese state-owned Export-Import Bank of China to fund the construction of 161 towers by controversial telecommunications giant Huawei.

“This deal is a demonstration that Beijing is moving fast and in a big, broad way to create more leverage over the Solomon Islands government,” said the director of Strategic Analysis Australia, Michael Shoebridge, in a previous interview with The Epoch Times.

Beijing has used loan programs as a tool for building relationships with developing governments but also entrapping them once they default on their loan repayments (debt-trap diplomacy), compelling local authorities to hand over key assets and infrastructure.

The World Bank estimates that major Pacific nations such as Fiji, Samoa, the Solomons, and Tonga owe around 38 percent of their external debt to the Asian Development Bank, which is 22 percent owned by China.

Meanwhile, in March 2022, the Solomons signed a security deal with Beijing that would allow the CCP to station weapons, troops, and naval ships in the region, raising concerns about the potential expansion of militarisation beyond the South China Sea to the South Pacific.