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The Prime Minister of Solomon Islands defended his government’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with China, accusing “Taiwan agents” of trying to destabilize the government.

Manasseh Sogavare made the comments during a stormy day in parliament as opposition leader Mathew Wale attempted to oust the prime minister in a motion of no confidence that was rejected by a large majority.

Wale blamed Sogavare for the anti-government protests and deadly riots that have rocked the country in recent weeks. On November 24, demonstrators marched through the parliamentary compound east of Honiara, where they reportedly set fire to a leaf hut next to the Parliament where MPs and staff go to smoke and have lunch. Riots followed for hours with buildings set on fire in Chinatown, as well as a police station and a school.

The riots continued for days. The bodies of three people were found in a burnt down building of a store in Honiara’s Chinatown.

Many of the protesters come from Malaita province, the country’s most populous province, where the provincial government has enjoyed strained relations with the central government for years. Tensions escalated in 2019 when Sogavare announced that the Solomon Islands would change diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China, a move that Malaita Prime Minister Daniel Suidani sharply criticized.

On Monday in parliament, Sogavare defended the decision, saying traditional donor partners had not been able to help Solomon Islands meet their development challenges.

“China, as an economic power, offers us an opportunity to engage and respond to our development needs and challenges,” he said.

“The national government does not need to bow to the interests of Taiwan and its agents on this issue… The Solomon Islands have recognized the People’s Republic of China and this is the end of this matter,” Sogavare said.

He also said that “Taiwan agents” had asked the government to hold consultations on a possible return of allegiance to Taiwan, which he said would not happen. “Go ahead, stop wasting time and energy on this. “

“The Solomon Islands, as a sovereign democratic state, reaffirms their decision and supports their traditional bilateral partners: United States of America, United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and New Zealand and the rest of the world … recognizing the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government of China, ”Sogavare said.

Sogavare added that the government did not need the approval of provincial governments to make decisions on bilateral relations.

Wale said China was not the problem, but rather the prime minister’s lack of humility and reluctance to listen to the people

“The problem is the Prime Minister’s deception. You have made multiple statements here and in the media that the government will consult as widely as possible and hear everyone’s views on the issue of the switchover. You will not leave any stone unturned. You will reach all ridings, ”he said.

Wale said the Prime Minister’s broken promises fueled the protests.

Sogavare, a controversial figure in the Solomon Islands parliament, was first elected prime minister in 2000 after a coup against the government. He served four terms.

It was not the first motion in parliament to remove Sogavare. In 2017, he was dismissed over claims he no longer listened to fellow MPs and did not tolerate dissent.

Honiara, the capital, was relatively calm when the motion was defeated in parliament. More than 200 peacekeepers from PNG, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand have flown in over the past two weeks to help local police forces maintain law and order.

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