A high-level delegation from the Solomon Islands has stopped short of saying the Pacific state could switch its diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan, keeping open the option amid media reports that it might end 36 years of official ties with Taipei.
Stressing that the Solomons have yet to come up with a final decision on the switch, a visiting delegation led by Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade Jeremiah Manele said at a news conference in Taipei on Monday that the Solomon Islands government was reviewing its foreign relations from a global perspective.
“My government was elected into office this year and has undertaken the commitment to review Solomon Islands foreign policy,” Manele said, adding that a national mechanism was in place to address the Solomons’ foreign relations.
The Solomon Islands are one of only 17 countries that still recognise Taiwan instead of China. News reports said last week that the Pacific island nation might switch its recognition to mainland China after a ministerial delegation visited Beijing to discuss the issue.
The Solomons said on Friday that “no decision” had been made to cut ties with Taipei in favour of Beijing.
“The review is a broader one, and we have looked at our global posture, reviewing all our overseas missions and relations,” said Manele, who arrived in Taipei on Monday at the start of a five-day visit.
Deputy Foreign Minister Colin David Beck explained that his government was still reviewing a parliamentary task force’s report about the Solomons’ relations with Taiwan, and would also consider a report the foreign ministry had compiled on the two sides’ bilateral ties.
The Solomons parliamentary foreign relations committee has an October 31 deadline to report to the legislature on the issue.
“In terms of the deadline … the government will decide when this matter will be addressed,” Beck said. None of the reports that will be used in the decision making process have been made public because the executive government is still reviewing them, the deputy foreign minister said.
Solomons-Taiwan relations remained normal as the delegation to Taipei sought to discuss further cooperation programmes with both the government and private sectors, he said.
Manele also described current ties with Taiwan as robust: the two sides signed a bilateral visa waiver arrangement in Tuvalu last month. The Solomons also maintain a number of agreements with Taipei on fisheries, agriculture and technical cooperation and more than 100 students from the islands attend schools in Taiwan.
Earlier on Monday, Manele met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who also described the Pacific island nation as a “solid friend” of Taipei.
In a meeting with Manele, Tsai promised to do more to improve ties, and asked for support for Taiwan on the world stage.
“Taiwan is a responsible and devoted partner in the international community,” she said, adding that Taiwan and the Solomons had enjoyed 36 years of diplomatic relations.
She thanked the Solomons for speaking out for Taiwan in the international arena, including at meetings of organisations affiliated with the United Nations, and said that under her presidency, Taipei had offered expertise in agriculture, medicine and education.
In a tweet, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said “spirits were high” at the meeting.
Beijing has offered to set up a development fund to encourage the Solomons to switch sides, prompting Taipei to warn the island nation that it risked falling into a “debt trap”.
At the same time, Taipei has pledged US$8.5 million for 2019-20 through a fund for the Solomons, home to just over 600,000 people.
Beijing and Taipei have been competing for international recognition since 1949, when the Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China on the mainland and the Kuomintang’s Republic of China government fled to Taiwan.
Beijing threatens to reunify the self-ruling island by force if necessary and regards Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party as pro-independence.
Since Tsai took office in 2016, five countries – including Panama, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic – have switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Solomon Islands sets up task force to consider switching Taiwan ties to Beijing
- China, US rivalry in Pacific may heat up as Solomon Islands looks to switch ties from Taipei to Beijing
- Taipei’s ties with Solomon Islands ‘rock solid’, Taiwanese foreign minister says as Beijing woos Pacific nation
This article Solomon Islands delegation holds off declaring any switch in diplomatic ties to Taiwan first appeared on South China Morning Post