Police on alert as Taiwan’s flag lowered in the Solomons

The Solomon Islands switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, becoming the latest country to leave the dwindling Taiwanese camp. (AP)
Updated 17 September 2019

Police on alert as Taiwan’s flag lowered in the Solomons

  • The move prompted a peaceful pro-Taiwan protest on the island of Malaita
  • Chinese-owned shops were largely closed Tuesday as news sank in that 36 years of diplomatic ties with Taiwan had ended

Honiara: Police maintained a strong presence on the streets of the Solomon Islands’ capital Honiara Tuesday but reported no unrest following the troubled Pacific nation’s decision to switch diplomatic allegiance to China from Taiwan.

The move, revealed late Monday when officials in Taipei pre-emptively severed ties with Honiara, prompted a peaceful pro-Taiwan protest on the island of Malaita.

“We’ve spoken to the police chief there and there were no incidents,” a police spokesman told AFP. In Honiara, a group of bystanders — some waving Taiwanese flags — watched as Taipei’s embassy lowered its flag for the final time.

The issue has stirred passionate debate in a country long mired in corruption, with many viewing diplomatic manoeuvring as an attempt by the political elite to feather their own nests.

“This switch has been pushed by a few members of parliament, backed by foreign influences,” one man, who did not want to be named, told AFP on the streets of Honiara on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t reflect what we the people of this country would have chosen.” Honiara’s Chinatown has borne the brunt of mob violence in the past, most recently when Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was elected in April this year.

Its prosperous Chinese population — some who have been resident for generations — has long been a target for lingering resentment, exacerbated by increasing numbers of more recent migrants who locals feel are taking a stranglehold on the capital’s economy.

Chinese-owned shops were largely closed Tuesday as news sank in that 36 years of diplomatic ties with Taiwan had ended. Police said they had extra officers on patrol to keep the peace and meetings were underway with community groups.

“We’re reminding people not to take the law into their own hands and reminding them what’s happened in the past when protests have happened,” a police spokesman told AFP.

As well as closing its embassy, Taipei will also scrap aid programs focused on agriculture and health, while the Solomon Star Times reported 125 students currently on scholarships in Taiwan will have to return home.

“It is indeed regrettable that their unfinished cooperative projects must come to an end, and it is a loss for Solomon Islands people,” Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said in a statement that expressed “strong regret and condemnation” over the decision.

The Solomons’ government has not made any official statement on its decision and Sogavare canceled a planned media conference Tuesday, citing a busy schedule.

Local media reported that the lawmakers voted 27-0 in favor of recognizing China, with six abstentions. Parliamentarian John Moffat Fugui, who headed a task force which examined the issue, said last week that Sogavare wants to formally announce the change to the UN General Assembly meeting in New York later this month.

It leaves Taiwan with just 16 nations left that recognize it, further isolating the island nation that Beijing sees as a rogue province resisting unification.
Australia’s former high commissioner to the Solomons, James Batley, said it was not a foregone conclusion that other Taiwanese allies would follow Honiara’s lead.

“I don’t think any of the Solomon Islands’ neighbors, and that includes Australia, will really be surprised by this decision,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“I don’t necessarily think that... it marks the beginning of a snowball effect, but there’s no doubt the Solomon Islands is a big prize for China in the diplomatic battle between China and Taiwan in the Pacific.”

US Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a vocal critic of China, vowed the switch would have repercussions. “Now I will begin exploring ways to cut off ties with Solomon Islands, including potentially ending financial assistance and restricting access to US dollars and banking,” he tweeted.

Washington itself normalized diplomatic relations with China in 1979 and downgraded official links with Taiwan.


Indonesia eager to ease restrictions despite ongoing pandemic

Updated 30 May 2020

Indonesia eager to ease restrictions despite ongoing pandemic

  • Government deploys police and military personnel in public places

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government is in the process of easing the restrictive measures implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), spending most of last week in preparations to reopen the economy. This comes despite an uptick in new infections that has brought the total number of cases to more than 25,000 across the archipelago on Saturday.

“We still have important, strategic agendas that remain a priority for our national interests and that should not be halted,” President Joko Widodo said during a Cabinet meeting on Friday.

To ensure citizens abide by guidelines — such as wearing face masks and observing social distancing — the government has deployed 340,000 police and military personnel to monitor the situation in over 1,000 public places in four provinces and 25 regencies and municipalities across the country.

Experts, however, are divided over the government’s decision to involve the military in dealing with the pandemic.

“The military have been a part of the government’s response to the pandemic since the beginning. So far, they have not overstepped their role,” Stanislaus Riyanta, University of Indonesia’s intelligence and security analyst, told Arab News, adding that “public discipline” was necessary for the virus-containing measures to work.

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the university, echoed Riyanta’s statements.

“Compliance with the health protocols in public places is the only vaccine we have right now. We have no other choice but to adopt these measures,” Riono said.

However, Asfinawati Ajub, human rights advocate and chairwoman of the Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation disagrees, adding that such reasons are not enough to deploy military personnel and that the policy was “ill-intended.”

On Thursday, Minister of Tourism Wishnutama Kusubandio said that regions that had been declared safe to reopen would need at least one month to implement health protocols. Minister of Religious Affairs Fachrul Razi discussed issuing social distancing guidelines to open places of worship.

But Tri Yunis Miko Wahyono, another epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, told Arab News that the nationwide anti-virus measures, in general, were not enough to curb the spread of the virus, let alone allow for an easing of restrictions.

“We can review the measures based on each region’s capacity to contain the virus, such as controlling the spread, isolating the infected, or identifying imported cases,” he said.

On Friday, West Java Gov. Ridwan Kamil said that after imposing province-wide, large-scale social restrictions, new cases had dropped significantly and that a majority of regencies and municipalities in the province — the third-most infected in Indonesia — could start easing some restrictions.

The government said that the reproduction rate of new cases in virus-stricken Jakarta had dropped to a more controllable level and that if this remained consistent for at least two weeks, it would be safe to lift some restrictions.

As of Saturday, there were 557 new infection cases, increasing the national tally to 25,773, while the death toll rose to 1,573 with 53 new deaths reported, health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said.

While 10 provinces did not report any new positive cases, five provinces — East Java, Jakarta, South Sulawesi, Central Kalimantan, and West Java — recorded the highest number of new infections.

“In Jakarta, not all of the 101 new cases were from residents in the city but rather from returning migrant workers who had arrived in Jakarta airport and had to be tested. Those who tested positive for COVID-19 were recorded in Jakarta's data,” Yurianto said.

Jakarta will continue implementing its large-scale social restrictions until June 4, a deadline that has been extended for the third time since it was first declared on April 10. East Java has emerged as a new COVID-19 hotspot, with new clusters popping up in the province.

Meanwhile, the provincial capital and Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, remained the worst-hit in the province, despite the extension of large-scale social restrictions.

“City residents have not been complying with restrictions. Many Surabayans cannot work from home. They have to go out to earn their living,” Nunung Pramono, a freelance tour guide in Surabaya, told Arab News.