Fellow Solomon Islanders, we have endured many challenges since we attained Independence in 1978 in trying to forge our path towards achieving economic prosperity, social stability and lasting peace for the sake of future generations and the common good of our people.
With the foresight of past leaders combined with the commitment of local stakeholders and support of our development partners, steady progress has been made in some sectors of the economy, institutional governance and delivery of public services, yet the majority of our national development objectives and sustainable development goals are yet to fully materialize.
Our country is prone to natural disasters, economic shocks, political and social instability which represent some of the fundamental challenges we face on our development journey to harmonize our cultural diversities so we can work together to shed the burden of dependency and become economically self-sufficient.
It is with deep gratitude that I express on behalf of my family and all members of the DCGA, my heartfelt thanks and appreciation for the support rendered by Taiwan over the past 36 years is an enduring friend and development partner who has stood with us during some of our darkest hours, the gratitude for which the change of diplomatic recognition will never take away.
Fellow Solomon Islanders, diplomatic friendships are based on shared values, mutual respect and national interests which in the case of Taiwan we have reciprocated the support they have rendered over the past 36 years, by availing our marine resources and advocating to the United Nations (UN) for their right to self-determination as an independent sovereign nation despite the stand taken by the other 176 UN Member countries.
Unfortunately, our plea over the past 36 years has been in vain and will continue to remain as such based on international law, the respect for territorial integrity, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality, mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence that collectively represent the fundamental principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
Further, the democratic system within Taiwan consists of two major political parties, the currently ruling DPP that maintains a pro-independence stance for Taiwan, and the KMT that maintains a reunification policy. The National elections are in January 2019 and having been through this cycle in the past, the Solomon Islands is better served making a decision that reflects our long term development interests rather than being uncertain over what might happen should one day Taiwan democratically decide to reunite with Mainland China.
Formal recognition of the sovereignty of the Peoples Republic of China under the UN Resolution 2758 is supported by all UN countries except 16 underdeveloped nations which raises questions over whose interests does this minority support of small nations serve to represent against the vast majority of the global democracy?
Solomon Islands cannot answer for other nations but to determine the most appropriate way forward for the good of our country and people is the reason why Cabinet collectively decided on the appointment of a Bi-Partisan Taskforce to investigate and confirm the facts surrounding the ‘One China Principle’ while MFAET was also tasked to provide a report on the review of our diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
The outcome of both reports confirmed that while we cannot deny the long standing friendship we have maintained with Taiwan, the future stability and well-being of Solomon Islands depends on our own ability to engage at the international level with development partners capable of advancing our national interests while we develop opportunities, strengthen our institutions, effectively manage resources and remain united in our quest for peace, prosperity and progress in the future best interests of our country.
Recent interventions made by the USA who recently re-emerged to confirm their support for our development initiatives by committing to the establishment of an Embassy and offering funding for the proposed National Transport Core Initiative, were made with the assurance that any sovereign decision on diplomatic recognition would be respected and not conditional on the outcome.
The written invitation by the Vice President Mike Pence for a meeting on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the assistance package being prepared by the US government was graciously accepted although no commitment was made in response to the Vice President’s request to delay a decision on the One China question only that it would be taken into consideration.
Therefore, it was very disappointing to note that recent media reports and statements made by Vice President Pence misrepresent the understanding we had established both through dialogue and written communications. I will look forward to meeting Vice President Pence in the future to further strengthen our bilateral relationship and remain optimistic that our any misunderstanding can be resolved based on the historic ties we have maintained since 1942.
My good people of Solomon Islands the DCGA has made a decision after careful analysis of all the risks and benefits related to such a move including the timing which many claim was rushed. Upon forming government, as part of its 100 Days Action Priorities, the DCGA announced it would review diplomatic relations with Taiwan and assess the ‘One China Principle’ with a decision to be made following the outcome of these investigations.
That is what we have done over the past months in a more transparent manner than any other nation, which has had to tackle this question and make a decision on behalf of the people they represent.
The government having spent months investigating and reporting on the One China question which has kept the international community in suspense particularly Taiwan, China and our traditional partners, and therefore not appropriate to prolong a decision as it would undermine our credibility by appearing as if the government was attempting to leverage one against the other while a decision was pending, which does not reflect a policy of being a friend to all.
Further, with our 2020 Annual Budget to be finalized over the next month and our presentation at the UNGA next week, a decision was essential to ensure proper planning for 2020 development priorities and to preserve our national integrity to the international community.
I need to make it clear that the decision by Cabinet to acknowledge the United Nations Resolution 2758 of 1971 requires us to sever diplomatic relations, but not people-to-people relationship, cultural exchanges, trade relations and investment, which will continue as long as Taiwan and Solomon Islands continue to exist on planet earth.
Taiwan investments in the country will continue to be supported by Solomon Islands Government. They are entitled to incentives and the protections guaranteed by our laws. We would encourage more Taiwanese Investors to invest in the country, something they have not been actively doing over the 36 years of diplomatic relations. Their investments have been in political governments and political interests. The people of Taiwan are welcome to send cultural groups to Solomon Islands for cultural exchanges. These exchanges are not affected by the diplomatic switch.
It is Taiwan that cut ties with Solomon Islands, for reasons that they are not happy with the Solomon Islands decision to comply with International Law governing the matter of diplomatic relations, and did so even before an official decision was announced and immediately began leaving the country before a proper farewell could be arranged.
A cardinal point that the people of this country must understand is that Taiwan under international law is not entitled to have diplomatic relations with any sovereign country in the world because it is not recognized as a country by the United Nations. Our sovereign decision to sever the diplomatic relations is therefore consistent with International law.
As long as our decision is consistent with International law, Solomon Islands will not allow itself to be used as a tool to satisfy the narrow geopolitical interest of foreign political powers.
As Prime Minister of our beloved country, I will not allow that to happen. Solomon Islands is not a political football to be used by International interest groups that lack international credentials at the United Nations to achieve their narrow political or geopolitical interests.
In this regard, we acknowledge with much gratitude the position taken by Australia and New Zealand to respect the sovereign decision we took on this matter to comply with International law. Any other position taken by any foreign powers will not be respected by Solomon Islands.
Some people question my decision not to attend this year’s UNGA debate. Any right-minded people whose minds are not tainted by dirty politics will appreciate that decision. The Government has just taken a major political decision and I have a national duty to ensure that the nation appreciates that decision.
1. Can you assure the people of this nation that SI will not fall into a debt trap?
Let’s all be clear that there are no such conditions as binding us to make a loan immediately after formalizing ties with PRC. We are a responsible government that will ensure that if we are compelled to make loans, this will be done responsibly such that we are in a capable position to repay these loans well in advance to their due dates.
For instance, loans will only be made for programs and projects that are clearly defined as economic drivers. Besides, we are not required or binded by any international law to must make a loan. Loans will be only considered if it is necessary and in our best interest.
2. Can you assure the people of this nation that SI is ready to have a diplomatic relationship with PRC?
Just like any other diplomatic relations, it is with mutual trust and confidence that a country often decides on a diplomatic relationship. Our diplomatic relations with PRC is no exception. Following the Caucus and Cabinet decision to recognize the ‘One China principle’, the process to formalize our relationshi0p with PRC has started.
Cabinet approved the draft Communique and the Memorandum of Understanding on establishing diplomatic relations. These documents will be executed in Beijing by the Solomon Island Foreign Affairs Minister and his PRC counterpart. The execution of these documents begins the process of negotiating a series of sectoral technical corporations which will guide our engagements with the people and Government of PRC.
The Government of the PRC made an undertaking to take over and improve on all the programs under the various Technical Corporation Agreement we have with the Republic of China, beginning with the immediate transfer of our students in Taiwan to China at the end of the current semester.
Solomon Islands has been in its comfort zone for quite some time and for a long time, the country has developmental issues that needs to be addressed and we would be simply irresponsible to isolate a global willing player to assist developing and least developing countries in the pursuance of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including actions on climate change.
We are struggling as a nation for the last 40 years, including the 36 years of our diplomatic relations with the Republic of China. We collapsed as a nation 20 years into our journey as an independent nation. The underlying reasons for the collapse was lack of development opportunities in places outside of Honiara.
The focus on law and order, good governance and addressing corruption under our post conflict development strategy is welcomed but without major infrastructure development program that will open up opportunities in the rural area, we are standing on a shaky ground.
We need all our development partners to help us do that. The notable exclusion as active players in our development aspirations were China and USA since we attained independence, the former due to our recognition of Taiwan which the United Nations ruled as a province of China. That position locked Solomon Islands out of the potential assistance that PRC is willing and capable of extending to Solomon Islands.
In that regard we welcome the intention for greater engagement by USA with Solomon Islands, but the timing of their expression of interest for greater engagement questions their genuineness, so is the widely circulated proposition that such assistance can only be extended to Solomon Islands if we do not switch our diplomatic relations from Taiwan.
We are sovereign nation and we cannot allow our country to be used by others to advance their narrow international political agenda. That is not acceptable. The TRC recommendations have stated important issues that the country must address to avoid another conflict. PRC is willing to consider our requests for assistance on this matter.
We believe that being friend to all, enemy to none, gives us room to make more friends, and we believe that by establishing diplomatic tie with PRC can assist the country achieve some of its development aspirations. Ease of doing business directly with China rather than passing through middlemen will be greatly enhanced. The cost of doing business with China who is our single major trading partner will become cheaper and more efficient.
According to the recent CBSI report we have a total trade value of SBD2 billion which is by far our largest single trading partner, well above all other trading partners combined. Our trade with ROC is only SBD142 million which is a minor fraction compared to PRC.
Additionally, Solomon Islands will greatly benefit from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and will pump in a lot of infrastructure development that are directly linked to spur our economic development both in the urban centres and in the rural areas.
Our nation of Solomon Islands is bound to reap huge benefits never seen before in the history of our young nation, in this new relationship with PRC.
3. What is the government doing to deal with SI students studying in Taiwan?
I sincerely wish to assure all our good parents of our students studying in Taiwan that my government is doing all it can in close consultation with our Embassy in Taipei to bring back our children in the first available charter flight if that is necessary.
However reports from our Ambassador has confirmed that all our students are well looked after and there are already assurances from Tapei’s ministry of foreign affairs that our students will continue with their studies until the end of the current semester, which is in January 2020. Our government is very thankful to the ROC government for continuously taking care of our children.
I also wish to assure all that the government is seriously looking out for the welfare of our fellow students in Taiwan and the relevant ministries within my government have taken the necessary steps to address all of the issues relating to our Taiwan-based students.
Rest assured that my government is also taking steps to assist every line ministries that have existing projects and program funded by ROC who may or might have been affected by the recent change in our diplomatic ties.
For instance, the ministry of agriculture is taking over ownership of the Taiwan Technical Mission facilities both in Honiara and in Malaita. The local staffs working in these facilities will be properly taken care of.
My government has been also assured by the Beijing government that they will step in to assist us in the transition period and beyond including the funding and construction of the SPG2023 stadium.
I would also like to assure my fellow Christians that contrary to the media reports that falsely accuse my government of neglecting our Christian faith, our nation will remain a country that practices freedom of expression including the freedom to practice our Christian faith.
Finally, I urge my people of Solomon Islands to look beyond our differences in ideologies and tap into the huge potential that this new relationship brings to our shores.
The decision made by the government is a collective agreement agreed to by all the DCGA coalition MPs that you have elected into the 11th parliament, and was conducted in a very open and transparent manner as far as government caucus is concerned. Therefore, any discussion surrounding the decision to switch is purely academic at this stage.
Hence, I call on all the law-abiding people of this great nation of ours, to shift away from the blame game and start having dialogue on the way forward with our newly found friendship.
Collectively, we can make a positive difference to our nation and people.
God bless Solomon Islands.