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.


Protester flees Russia as two others tie the knot in jail

Updated 16 min 1 sec ago

Protester flees Russia as two others tie the knot in jail

  • The protester faces up to five years in prison for throwing a plastic bottle at police
  • Gubaidulin fled the country this week after realizing he could soon be given a lengthy jail term amid an unrelenting crackdown on the opposition

MOSCOW: A protester has fled Russia fearing imprisonment, his lawyer said Thursday, as a jailed demonstrator married a young woman accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
Aidar Gubaidulin, a 26-year-old programmer who faces up to five years in prison for throwing a plastic bottle at police, was among more than a dozen people who were arrested following anti-government protests demanding fair elections this summer.
Gubaidulin fled the country this week after realizing he could soon be given a lengthy jail term amid an unrelenting crackdown on the opposition, his lawyer Maxim Pashkov told AFP.
“This decision did not come easily to me but the events of the last few days left me no choice,” Gubaidulin said on Facebook.
“I’ve left the country and will not return anytime soon.”
Gubaidulin, who tossed an empty plastic bottle toward police at a July rally but did not hit anyone, was arrested and charged with mass unrest.
He was later released from pre-trial detention and eventually charged with threatening to use violence against police.
Pashkov said Gubaidulin decided to leave Russia after a court this week upheld the conviction of fellow protester Konstantin Kotov, who had been jailed for four years over peaceful protests.
“This affected him very much,” Pashkov said.
Meanwhile in a bittersweet development, Kotov, 34, married a 19-year-old suspected extremist, Anna Pavlikova, at Moscow’s infamous Matrosskaya Tishina jail, said Kotov’s friend and fellow activist Alexei Minyailo.
Along with several other people Pavlikova, then aged 17, was arrested last year and charged with creating an extremist organization and seeking to overthrow President Vladimir Putin’s government.
Her health deteriorated in jail and she was later placed under house arrest.
“Justice failed them, Kostya will soon be sent to a penal colony but love will triumph anyway,” Minyailo, who attended the wedding, told AFP, using a diminutive to refer to his friend.
Minyailo himself spent two months in pre-trial detention after the protests but was released after a solidarity campaign.
Overall six people including Kotov received jail terms of between two and five years over the opposition protests over elections in Moscow which were seen as unfair.
Under pressure from supporters the authorities made a few concessions, including releasing from prison actor Pavel Ustinov after he was jailed for three-and-a-half years and giving him a suspended sentence instead.
But as the wave of protests for the most part died down, the authorities once again began to tighten the screws.
This week, investigators announced five more detentions of protesters.
The latest arrests brought the number of people awaiting trial in jail to seven.
Tens of thousands of people rallied in Moscow this summer after authorities refused to allow allies of opposition leader Alexei Navalny to stand for city parliament in September elections.
Scores of Kremlin critics have fled Russia in recent years amid an increasing crackdown on dissent.