Police on alert as Taiwan’s flag lowered in the Solomons

The Solomon Islands switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, becoming the latest country to leave the dwindling Taiwanese camp. (AP)
Updated 17 September 2019

Police on alert as Taiwan’s flag lowered in the Solomons

  • The move prompted a peaceful pro-Taiwan protest on the island of Malaita
  • Chinese-owned shops were largely closed Tuesday as news sank in that 36 years of diplomatic ties with Taiwan had ended

Honiara: Police maintained a strong presence on the streets of the Solomon Islands’ capital Honiara Tuesday but reported no unrest following the troubled Pacific nation’s decision to switch diplomatic allegiance to China from Taiwan.

The move, revealed late Monday when officials in Taipei pre-emptively severed ties with Honiara, prompted a peaceful pro-Taiwan protest on the island of Malaita.

“We’ve spoken to the police chief there and there were no incidents,” a police spokesman told AFP. In Honiara, a group of bystanders — some waving Taiwanese flags — watched as Taipei’s embassy lowered its flag for the final time.

The issue has stirred passionate debate in a country long mired in corruption, with many viewing diplomatic manoeuvring as an attempt by the political elite to feather their own nests.

“This switch has been pushed by a few members of parliament, backed by foreign influences,” one man, who did not want to be named, told AFP on the streets of Honiara on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t reflect what we the people of this country would have chosen.” Honiara’s Chinatown has borne the brunt of mob violence in the past, most recently when Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was elected in April this year.

Its prosperous Chinese population — some who have been resident for generations — has long been a target for lingering resentment, exacerbated by increasing numbers of more recent migrants who locals feel are taking a stranglehold on the capital’s economy.

Chinese-owned shops were largely closed Tuesday as news sank in that 36 years of diplomatic ties with Taiwan had ended. Police said they had extra officers on patrol to keep the peace and meetings were underway with community groups.

“We’re reminding people not to take the law into their own hands and reminding them what’s happened in the past when protests have happened,” a police spokesman told AFP.

As well as closing its embassy, Taipei will also scrap aid programs focused on agriculture and health, while the Solomon Star Times reported 125 students currently on scholarships in Taiwan will have to return home.

“It is indeed regrettable that their unfinished cooperative projects must come to an end, and it is a loss for Solomon Islands people,” Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said in a statement that expressed “strong regret and condemnation” over the decision.

The Solomons’ government has not made any official statement on its decision and Sogavare canceled a planned media conference Tuesday, citing a busy schedule.

Local media reported that the lawmakers voted 27-0 in favor of recognizing China, with six abstentions. Parliamentarian John Moffat Fugui, who headed a task force which examined the issue, said last week that Sogavare wants to formally announce the change to the UN General Assembly meeting in New York later this month.

It leaves Taiwan with just 16 nations left that recognize it, further isolating the island nation that Beijing sees as a rogue province resisting unification.
Australia’s former high commissioner to the Solomons, James Batley, said it was not a foregone conclusion that other Taiwanese allies would follow Honiara’s lead.

“I don’t think any of the Solomon Islands’ neighbors, and that includes Australia, will really be surprised by this decision,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“I don’t necessarily think that... it marks the beginning of a snowball effect, but there’s no doubt the Solomon Islands is a big prize for China in the diplomatic battle between China and Taiwan in the Pacific.”

US Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a vocal critic of China, vowed the switch would have repercussions. “Now I will begin exploring ways to cut off ties with Solomon Islands, including potentially ending financial assistance and restricting access to US dollars and banking,” he tweeted.

Washington itself normalized diplomatic relations with China in 1979 and downgraded official links with Taiwan.


Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.