China’s newest ally in the Pacific goes to the polls

Political candidates offer bribes – handing out everything from cash to sacks of rice and Chinese-made solar panels to secure votes last minute.

Vote-buying has been a common tactic in the Pacific nation’s elections – hard to stamp out, despite toughened electoral laws.

But that is not why some of the world’s biggest powers are paying such close attention to Wednesday’s vote.

This remote island nation plays a crucial role in the jostling between China and the US – with its ally Australia – for influence in the region.

Back on the ground, however, voters will mainly be focused on their immediate needs. More than 80% of the 700,000 population live outside the capital Honiara – most without access to basic services like electricity, medical aid, schools and transport.
Why China is an election issue

Wednesday’s election – delayed from last year – is the first time citizens will be able to vote since the Solomon Islands pivoted from the West towards Beijing.

As a result, the vote could be seen as “a referendum” on incumbent leader Manasseh Sogavare’s embrace of China, says researcher Edward Cavanough, who travelled across the country for his book ‘Divided Isles’ documenting the nation’s turn to Beijing.

“The PM has been very adept at leaning into the [geopolitical competition] and playing each of these major and regional powers off each other to gain incredible concessions,” he says.

Located about 1,600km (900 miles) north of Australia, the Solomon Islands is one of the poorest countries in the region due to decades of tribal conflict.

Up until 2017, Australia led a peacekeeping mission here.

Then two years after the mission withdrew, Prime Minister Sogavare chose to drop his country’s decades-long diplomatic relationship with Taiwan in favour of Beijing. Then, in 2022, he signed a security pact with China – the details of which are still not publicly known.

That set off major alarm bells for Australia and other Pacific neighbours. At one point, there was talk the treaty could allow a Chinese naval base to be established in the US-dominated Pacific region – rumours dismissed by Mr Sogavare.

However if he wins again, the PM has pledged to only deepen ties – he sees Beijing as the provider of his country’s future prosperity, while also making clear his dislike of traditional partner Australia and the US.

Chinese aid and investment have flowed into the country since the deal, bringing new stadiums, roads and other infrastructure. Mr Sogavare told the UN last year that China was the Solomon’s lead infrastructure partner.


But his political opponents have criticised his closeness to China, questioning if it’s the best course for the nation. Some have said that if they gain power they would revisit the China security deal, while others say they prefer working with traditional Western partners like Australia.


Follow by Email