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Last Updated: Friday, 21 April 2006, 18:57 GMT 19:57 UK
Riots highlight Chinese tensions
By Penny Spiller
BBC News

Chinese makeshift refugee camp in Honiara
The rioting has left many Chinese people homeless

Rioting in the Solomon Islands has highlighted sensitivities over Chinese business influences, both in the islands themselves and across the South Pacific.

When Solomon islanders took to the streets in protest at their new Prime Minister Snyder Rini, they targeted the Chinatown area of the capital Honiara.

The normally bustling main shopping street was pretty much razed to the ground.

The Chinese community in the South Pacific archipelago may be small - just a few thousand out of a population of about 500,000 - but it is significant.

Some have lived in the Solomons for generations, their families and businesses now an integral part of island life.

But in recent years, the country has seen an influx of new arrivals from mainland China - bringing with them money and a desire to do business.

Beachfront sites have been bought up and transformed into hotels; prime property used for restaurants and shops.

Chinese community members register at secure camp in Honiara
Chinese residents have been registering their interest to leave

While this has undoubtedly brought opportunities for islanders, it has led to complaints of low wages and poor working conditions, as well as allegations of unethical business practices.

"People were watching the Chinese arrive here, and within two weeks they would have buildings on prime sites," said John Lemani, of the Solomon Star newspaper.

"People started asking: 'What's going on here?' "

Mr Lemani said property was bought without proper planning procedures being followed, and visas and local passports were handed out without applications going through the official channels.

'Chequebook diplomacy'

Protesters who accuse Chinese businessmen of interfering in the islands' politics also point the finger at Taiwan - a charge the Taiwanese government had rejected.

The Solomon archipelago is one of Taipei's 25 diplomatic allies, all of which are important in its fight for independence from China.

Everything was gone, they just took out everything
Charlie Zhang,
Chinese restuarant owner

Both China and Taiwan are fighting for diplomatic recognition among the South Pacific's 12 island states, say regional observers, who add China is winning as it has secured official ties with seven of the them.

Susan Windybank, Pacific expert at Australian conservative think tank The Centre for Independent Studies, says their rivalry has led to "chequebook diplomacy" which is fuelling corruption in the region.

"They've more or less resorted to bribery via aid to get the allegiance of countries," she said earlier this month.

"That's just exacerbated the problems of corruption in the Pacific and has done very little to help the underlying development problems that urgently need addressing."


The rioting started on Tuesday over the appointment of new Prime Minister Snyder Rini, who was deputy prime minister in the last government

He is accused of being too closely linked to former Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza's administration, which was tainted by corruption allegations.

Smoke billowing over Chinatown in Honiara
Some 90% of Honiara's Chinatown was destroyed

Demonstrators also accuse him of using money from Chinese and Taiwanese backers to bribe MPs into voting for him - claims he has angrily denied.

The violence also spilled from frustration among those who had hoped the elections, held at the beginning of the month, would herald a new start for the country.

By Thursday, more than 1,000 people - mainly Chinese from Honiara - had been registered as displaced by Red Cross officials in the capital.

More than 400 are being housed in the Honiara's main police station, after losing everything in the two days of burning and looting.

"Most say they just want to return home to China now. How and when that will happen has yet to be decided," said Vincent Ochilet of the Red Cross in Honiara.


Charlie Zhang has been on the islands for 15 years and a citizen of them for five.

His Fortune Chinese restaurant was one of the businesses destroyed in the riots.

"Everything was gone, they just took out everything," he told the AFP news agency. "Too expensive to guess how much to replace everything."

But he says he will stay, even though he does not know how long it will take for the town to recover.

Jeanie Alekevu, 25, a local teacher, believes the rioters eventually regret their actions.

"People have not been happy with the Chinese here, but I think they are beginning to realise how much they have contributed to our country.

"Now the shops are destroyed and the Chinese are leaving, I think they may come to regret it."

Australia beefs up Solomons force
21 Apr 06 |  Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Solomons reel from riots
21 Apr 06 |  In Pictures
Country profile: Solomon Islands
24 Mar 06 |  Country profiles

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