On December 1, New Zealand decided to join forces with Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea to stabilize the situation in the Solomon Islands. The same day, the government declared Chinatown and any burned buildings as a ‘no go zone’ until authorities clean the area.
As the Solomon Islands is amid an internal violent politic unrest, the Solomon Islands requested assistance to New Zealand.
On December 1, New Zealand confirmed it would join forces with Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, which have already sent troops to help keep peace in the archipelago.
Australia has deployed about 100 soldiers, along with a contingent of 50 from Fiji and 50 from Papua New Guinea at the request of the Solomon Islands government.
“We are trying to take no part in the internal issues of the Solomon Islands, but simply to ensure any issues they have be addressed in a calm and peaceful way“, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“We are deeply concerned by the recent civil unrest and rioting in Honiara, and following yesterday’s request of the Solomon Islands government, we have moved quickly to provide urgent assistance“, wrote New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a statement.
A first team of 15 from New Zealand will be deployed to assess the situation right away, followed by a group of 50 New Zealand Defense Force and Police over the weekend.
Samoa police didn’t receive any requests but remains ready to help if asked.
Political unrest, buildings set on fire and looting
It is not the first time the Solomon Islands request external assistance to restore peace. From 1998 to 2003, an internal armed conflict destabilized the islands. At the time, the prime minister had asked for international assistance, too. It led to the creation of RAMSI, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands. Made of police and military personnel from Australia, New Zealand and Pacific countries, RAMSI operated from 2003 to 2017.
On November 24, 2021, a peaceful protest turned into a violent unrest when people breached the national parliament building, burned a roof close to the parliament, a police station, a high school and some buildings in the Kukum commercial area and in Chinatown.
Protestors originally asked the prime minister to stand down from his position.
After 36 hours of unrest in Honiara where protestors asked for the resignation of the prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare refused to step down. “If I am removed as Prime Minister, it will be on the floor of Parliament“, he said. The prime minister is elected by the 35 members of parliament.
On November 28, the opposition leader and member of parliament Matthew Wale lodged a motion of no confidence in the prime minister. The motion will be introduced by December 5.
Longstanding tensions between Malaita and Guadalcanal islands
The Solomon Islands is a Pacific archipelago independent from the British since 1976. It is home to about 650,000 people with a lower-middle income. There are 6 major islands. Its capital Honiara is located in Guadalcanal, the largest island. Its neighbor Malaita is the most populous island.
The reasons behind the political unrest is a “mixed story” as explained Australia’s prime minister.
The country has been facing severe economic difficulties with the Covid-19 pandemic. The government estimates the riots cost the country US $25 million and 1,000 jobs.
Moreover, the population from Malaitu feels the federal government in Honiara doesn’t support them enough, ABC explains.
A substantial number of the protestors came from the Malaitu province. The Malaitu Premier Daniel Suidani blamed the external intervention from Australia as it would keep “a corrupt Prime Minister in power“.
For years, the population from Malaita has been migrating to Guadalcanal for better economic opportunities. Malaita and Guadalcanal were at the core of the internal ethnic tensions in 1998-2003.
In 2019, the protestors from Malaitu were seeking independence from the rest of the archipelago after a decision regarding the diplomatic relations with Taiwan and China.
The Chinese community targeted during protests
That year, the prime minister Sogavare decided to reassess the country’s external relations after being elected. Solomon Islands then became closer to China as it terminated its relations with Taiwan. The Solomon Islands used to recognize Taiwan but representatives from both part completed cut ties then. Taiwan denounced China‘s “dollar diplomacy and false promises of large amounts of foreign assistance to buy off a small number of politicians“.
In 2019, violent protests already targeted Chinatown. In 2006, the Chinese community was also targeted for allegations of having interfered in the elections of the prime minister.
Malaita’s Premier Daniel Suidani has banned Chinese companies from the province.
In 2021, several buildings and businesses have been set on fire in Chinatown. Businesses in Honiara have also been subject to looting.
On December 1, the government declared Chinatown and any building affected by fire as a ‘No Go zone‘ until the buildings that burned would be secured and hazardous materials removed. On November 30, the police had also asked the population to stay out of these areas for authorities to clean up the damages.
The Chinese foreign minister Zhao Lijian asked the Solomon Islands to protect the Chinese community.
As the motion of no confidence comes on December 5, the government also stresses that the Solomon Islands will suffer from a humanitarian crisis because of food shortage.