New Zealand’s government announced Wednesday it would deploy military personnel to the crisis-stricken Solomon Islands after a mob burnt down buildings and looted shops, according to Reuters.
New Zealand joins similar deployments by Australia, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea to restore peace following anti-government rioting. Protesters demand Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare step down over foreign diplomatic ties with China.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said 15 military and police personnel would be deployed on Thursday, followed by a much larger group of 50 over the weekend. She said security forces would work with Solomons police as part of the Australia-led mission to restore peace.
“We are deeply concerned by the recent civil unrest and rioting in Honiara, and following yesterday’s request of the Solomon Islands Government, we have moved quickly to provide urgent assistance to help restore sustained peace and security,” Ardern said in the statement.
Last week, more than 1,000 rioters gathered in Honiara, the capital, and unleashed havoc on government buildings and targeted Chinese-owned shops. Protesters were angered about Sogavare’s move to switch diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China two years ago. He said the demonstrations were “influenced and encouraged by other powers” (we wonder who that could be…).
Australia said it will deploy more than 100 police and military personnel to the Solomon Islands as protesters in the Pacific nation defied a government-imposed lockdown and set fire to buildings in the capital Honiara for a second day https://t.co/RuYqDZcVWI pic.twitter.com/DEH0eEjlHZ
— Reuters (@Reuters) November 25, 2021
The Solomon Islands appears to become a geopolitical battleground between China and the US.
“Geopolitical maneuvering was a trigger but it isn’t the whole picture,” Anna Powles, a senior lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand, told Financial Times.
“The dynamics underpinning the riots are a complex web of longstanding local grievances over the lack of economic development, corruption, and the capturing of elites. These dynamics have intersected over the past three years with the geopolitical competition,” Powles said.
Locals are also angered by the increase of businesses owned by ethnic Chinese that has driven economic inequality.
“There was some feeling against the Chinese businesses that are involved in the financing of domestic politics, but this is not new,” said Leliana Firisua, a Honiara resident influential in the Malaitan community. “This resentment will continue if they do not stop doing it.”
Firisua warned: “This unrest will not stop unless what the people are demanding is achieved. And that is change.”
So the temporary Australia-led peacekeeping mission might turn into a much more extended stay as local anger against the Chinese may not abate anytime soon.