Solomon Islands Temporarily Bans Foreign Diplomats’ Visits Amid Budget Preparations
Pacific nation seeks to limit outside influence as it finalizes its national budget
The Solomon Islands has temporarily banned visits by foreign diplomats, citing the need to focus on its national budget amid a challenging economic situation. The Pacific nation, which has become a hotspot of geopolitical rivalry between China and the US and its allies, said the ban would last for two months starting from September 15.
In a letter dated Tuesday and addressed to “all development partners”, without naming them, the Solomon Islands government said the ban was imposed “to ensure that all government officials are available to assist with the budget preparation process”. The letter, posted on the government website, said exceptions would be granted in the event of a natural disaster, or on a “case by case basis” for projects or visits “crucial to budget preparation”.
Solomon Islands faces pressure from China and its rivals
The ban comes after a surge of visits by senior diplomats from various countries, including Australia, the US, Britain, Japan, Saudi Arabia and China, who have been vying for influence in the Pacific nation. Solomon Islands switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 2019, a move that angered the US and its allies, who see Taiwan as a key democratic ally in the region.
In April this year, China and Solomon Islands signed a controversial security agreement that would allow Beijing to send military and police personnel to its new ally, and potentially base naval vessels on its islands. The agreement, which was leaked online, sparked outrage among many Solomon Islanders and prompted Australia and the US to send delegations to Honiara to express their concerns.
China has also increased its economic assistance to Solomon Islands, offering loans for infrastructure projects such as a Huawei telecommunications network. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said in July that China would provide more budget support to his country, which has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and natural disasters.
Australia remains Solomon Islands’ biggest aid donor, providing about A$200m ($147m) annually. The US has also pledged to increase its engagement with the Pacific island nations, including offering infrastructure loans through its international aid agency USAID.
Solomon Islands faces domestic challenges
The ban on foreign visits also comes amid growing domestic challenges for Sogavare’s government, which faces criticism over its handling of the Covid-19 crisis, corruption allegations and social unrest. In November last year, violent protests erupted in Honiara over the government’s decision to lease one of its islands to a Chinese company for development. The protesters accused the government of selling out to China and ignoring the interests of the local people.
Sogavare has also faced calls for his resignation from some members of his own coalition, who accused him of mismanaging public funds and failing to consult them on key decisions. In June this year, Sogavare survived a no-confidence motion in parliament by a narrow margin.
The government has said it hopes to finalize its national budget by October 31 and present it to parliament for approval. The budget is expected to reflect the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has severely affected tourism and other sectors.
Subscribe to BNN Breaking
Sign up for our daily newsletter covering global breaking news around the world.