No pressure from China to intervene in the Solomon Islands - Nanaia Mahuta

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta says China played no part in Cabinet's decision to send Kiwi troops and police to the Solomon Islands, after a week of unrest.

Anti-government demonstrations last week turned violent, protesters demanding the removal of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. 

In 2019 the government switched its diplomatic relations from Taiwan to the People's Republic of China. Honiara, the capital, is on the island of Guadalcanal. Many of the protesters are reportedly from Malaita Island, which still has close ties to Taiwan and the US and in 2020 announced an independence referendum the central government dismissed as illegitimate. 

These issues, combined with limited economic opportunities not helped by the COVID-19 border closure, led to the rioting and looting, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported

Much of the ire has been directed at Chinese interests in Honiara, with buildings in the city's Chinatown district set on fire. 

New Zealand on Wednesday said it would be joining other nations in sending forces to help keep the peace. 

"We were asked formally by the Prime Minister to offer support and help," Mahuta told The AM Show on Thursday. "There was significant rioting, loss of life and damage to property, so when we received that formal request Cabinet made a decision to send a joint deployment of New Zealand Defence Force and police personnel to go over and support the peacekeeping effort, but also stabilise the situation." 

Fifteen will depart on Thursday and another 50 at the weekend, joining personnel from Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji who are already there. 

Mahuta said there was no pressure from China to quell violence. 

"Our response is purely in relation to a written ask from the Solomon Islanders."

Nanaia Mahuta.
Nanaia Mahuta. Photo credit: The AM Show

She said unlike previous peacekeeping missions in the islands, located east of Papua New Guinea, this one is expected to be short - up to 30 days - and relatively peaceful, though the threat of violence wasn't being dismissed altogether. 

"The latest report on the ground is that things have stabilised somewhat, and the role of our team will be to go into Honiara and support the clean-up, but also undertake greater efforts around stabilising the situation. 

"In terms of the operational protocols, we are ensuring that our people are able to undertake their role and are protected, but also in a COVID environment, that they're protected as well.

"There may well be other skirmishes over the next few days - that is why New Zealand is joining Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji on the ground to undertake peacekeeping activities as well as helping to support businesses and communities in the clean-up." 

Solomon Islands police have asked locals to stay away from Chinatown for the time being - for their own safety.

Taiwan has full diplomatic relations with only 15 countries now, many of them small island nations. It's lost five to its superpower neighbour and rival in the past decade.