Solomon Islands severs ties with Taiwan, which country will be the next to go?
Updated 19:43, 17-Sep-2019
John Gong

Editor's note: John Gong, PhD, is a research fellow at Charhar Institute and professor at the University of International Business and Economics. The article reflects the author's opinion and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

When El Salvador severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan in August last year, I predicted that the remaining 17 countries that still had formal relations with Taiwan must be secretly holding talks with Beijing for a change in direction. It is not so much of a question if for most of the countries on that list, but when they would do so. A year has passed since then. Now it appears that it is about that time again.

And this is particularly important in light of the upcoming election in Taiwan. The antagonistic policy of the current Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan toward the mainland has resulted in losing its diplomatic relations one after another. Maybe one country less in its passport usefulness will wake up some voters minds that the DPP’s policy is leading Taiwan nowhere. 

The news that the Solomon Islands will be the next one ditching Taiwan has been brewing for a while. Several days ago, an Australian newspaper reported that the Solomon Islands' Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said “Taiwan is completely useless to us” during an interview with Graeme Smith, a sinology professor in Australia. 

On Tuesday, came the news that the South Pacific island country has formalized the decision in a cabinet meeting. The decision will be officially delivered to Taipei in the next few days before October 1, which is China's national holiday.

Most people have no clue about the Solomon Islands. Here is a brief introduction. With a population of about 600,000 people, the country is located in the South Pacific, east of Papua New Guinea. Like in many small island economies, most people on the island live a subsistence farming lifestyle, relying on farming, fishing, and raising pigs and chicken. Tourism has been developed, but it is not a major source of income yet. 

Exports consist of fish and timber. But there is not much timber left these days due to excessive exploitation. Other moderate exports include plantation crops, such as copra, cocoa and palm oil. Fuels, industrialized products and other foods are imported from Australia, Singapore and China. 

An aerial view of the Solomon Islands. /VCG Photo

An aerial view of the Solomon Islands. /VCG Photo

Although the Solomon Islands' economy is notably small, one of its major trading partners is China. 

In that context, it is then quite understandable why “Taiwan is completely useless” to the country. The benefits of establishing diplomatic relations with China are obvious. Aside from enhanced exposure and status at the international level, the Solomon Islands stands to benefit from the prospect of more Chinese tourists and likely development assistance from China as other island countries in the South Pacific have witnessed. 

China's Belt and Road initiative may also bring projects to improve local infrastructure in transportation and lodging. More importantly, Chinese investments in mining may also bring more industrial jobs, as the Solomon Islands has significant reserves of bauxite and phosphates on some of its islands. 

With the Solomon Islands gone, hopefully, it is enough of a wake-up call for the DPP policymakers to foresee the end is near. Beijing has been fairly restrained in its international relations competition with Taiwan in the hope that cross-Strait relations would be stabilized, as deeper economic integration would lead to a pro-unification sentiment among people in Taiwan. But this strategy is obviously failing. Moving forward, Beijing might take a tougher stance to deal with cross-Strait relations. 

After the Solomon Islands, which country will be the next to sever ties with Taiwan? My prediction is Haiti, and it is likely to happen before the end of the year.

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