I believe that there are people in other countries who believe in democracy—who would stand with us, says Malaita’s ousted Premier Daniel Suidani.
Last week, China, in partnership with local proxies, successfully took out one of the CCP’s most effective and respected critics—Daniel Suidani of Malaita Province (exclusive interview below). In the process, Beijing executed regime change in Solomon Islands with no visible resistance from any of the countries or organizations who claim to support democracy.
The implications can’t be underestimated. The PRC now has a high profile solid example when it tells proto-authoritarians around the world that it can help them get rid of pesky opposition with little geopolitical cost. And those willing to stand up to PRC aggression are realizing they might be doing it on their own—in spite of all those fine press releases and workshops from Canberra, Wellington, and Washington about the importance of democracy.
This was not a surprise outcome. The Sunday Guardian has been covering this case, as it developed, for years. Our Indo-Pacific: Behind the Headlines interview below with Premier Suidani goes into some of the details of what just happened and what it means. But for those hearing about the case for the first time now, here is some background.
BACKGROUND FROM 2019
In September 2019, the recently elected Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, unilaterally “switched” Solomon’s political recognition from Taiwan to China.
Soon after, the government of Malaita Province, led by Daniel Suidani and the MARA party, and with the backing from traditional leaders, issued the Auki Communiqué that blocked PRC-linked companies from operating in the province. The Communiqué is a clear statement of why doing business with the PRC is bad morally, economically, politically, strategically and socially.
That resulted in MARA and Suidani becoming frontline targets for Sogavare’s DCGA government and the PRC.
When Suidani became ill, and needed treatment outside the country, Sogavare’s government denied him funding for the trip unless he let the PRC companies into Malaita. He said no.
He literally would have rather died than take money from China. Finally, Taiwan stepped in and he was brought there for successful treatment.
The plotting continued while he was away, as did the deepening of the relationship between Sogavare’s clique and the PRC, including the signing of a security deal.
When Suidani came back, there was an attempt to take him out politically via a Motion of No Confidence. There were substantial peaceful demonstrations against the move which was widely seen as PRC-backed, and it was withdrawn.
Fast forward to last week. In a series of legally questionable moves, seemingly backed by a PRC political warfare campaign and slush fund (as reported last week), Daniel Suidani was removed as Premier of Malaita.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT?
On 9 February 1943, Americans and their allies (including a large number of Solomon Islanders) won the decisive Battle of Guadalcanal. That win turned the tide in the battle of the Pacific.
Almost exactly 80 years to the day later, Chinese proxies, already in control on the island of Guadalcanal, expanded their successful Solomon Islands campaign to Malaita province and put in their man as Premier with just some tear gas and well-placed bribes.
Through political warfare, China reversed what thousands of Americans and allies died for 80 years ago.
BACKGROUND TO LATEST EVENTS
The latest phase in the PRC-backed operation to take over Malaita began with an unprecedented and legally dubious third Motion of No Confidence against Suidani. The backers were the “non-executive members” of the Assembly—members who weren’t part of the administration.
The Assembly had 17 non-executive members, and 16 members of Suidani’s MARA government.
As a result of the vote, Suidani lost the Premiership and, a few days later, a pro-Sogavare/PRC Premier was installed.
Q&A WITH PREMIER DANIEL SUIDANI
Q: Why do you oppose The Switch from Taiwan to China?
A: During the 2019 general campaign for the national government, “The Switch” from Taiwan to China issue wasn’t talked about with the people. Seeing that The Switch is something that affects the lives of the people, and the nation, in a major way, it would have been appropriate to have a referendum.
As a responsible government for Malaita, because the way it was handled was not clear, I was not willing to accept The Switch on behalf of the people of my province.
Q: What is going on?
A: I’ve been trying for three years to hold on to our beliefs and values in spite of attacks from China—I’ve been trying my very best. But the DCGA [national] government and the PRC are doing their best to oust us from the posts the people selected us for. They continue to fight against my beliefs—and my people’s beliefs and principles—in democracy. Those trying are succeeding by—maybe illegally—getting me out of post.
On 16 January, we had an Assembly meeting for a revised budget. Normally, the Premier will present a speech, then Minister for Finance will present a speech on the budget. We hadn’t gone through the budget yet—we were just reading the statement for the budget—when the Speaker of the Assembly asked for a vote on the speeches. That’s not the right way to do it, it wasn’t normal.
The Speaker was not doing the right thing by asking for the vote. The whole process—that ended up with the budget being defeated—was hijacked because the process was not according to the standing order. We believe the Speaker himself, and the non-executive members, planned it that way to defeat the budget and have an excuse to file the motion of no confidence.
We found out that the non-executive members, who should have been in their wards, were coming to that meeting from the national capital, Honiara, where they had stayed in hotels and were transported by the government patrol boat and escorted by the national police—assets owned by the national government. National assets should be used to support the government of day—not in this way.
The process that the national government and the non-executive members were doing at that time, during that meeting, was illegal, they were hijacking the process.
After they defeated the budget, we filed an application [about the legality of the process] with the High Court. But the non-executive members quickly moved on with Motion to get me out of post.
We decided not to attend the election of the [new] Premier because the whole process from the beginning was not legal. We think it is wrong to participate in something that is not legal.
We are waiting for judicial review. The case is with High Court at the moment. We filed on 27 January. The counsel representing the Premier’s office [Suidani’s office at the time] gave a submission to the office of the Speaker as of Friday last week. The Speaker’s office has to respond within 14 days.
I think the whole thing boils down to “The Switch” from the ROC to the PRC. I really stand against The Switch so the national government and the PRC are not happy with me—they do all sorts of things to get rid of Malaita opposition to The Switch.
Based on what we’ve experienced in the past, they are trying their best to go against the will of people of Malaita.
Q: Sogavare and his party amended the Constitution in order to be able to postpone the national elections due in 2023. Currently it seems they are due in April 2024. When is the next election due in Malaita?
A: According to the election schedule, the duration the Malaita provincial government would be coming to a natural end on 11 June. The new provincial government members say they favour amending the provincial government act so the next election is held at the same time as the national election.
They have announced that even if we finish 11 June, the government will be in caretaker mode until 2024.
So, essentially, if the court case doesn’t find in our favour, they took control of Malaita for over a year.
The court case is our last resort, otherwise we will work hard on the general election in 2024.
Q: Why did they do this now?
A: We estimate 90% of the people of Malaita still support the MARA government and still support democracy—the values we respect are close to our hearts—and China is going hard with influences into the province to get the province to recognize China.
That’s why they filed a motion with only a few months left—it’s not possible for a new government to do anything in four months.
Q: Given this has become a well-known case of PRC political interference in the internal affairs of a democratic country, are you getting any support from those who say they stand for democracy and national sovereignty?
A: At the moment there is no help from anyone. We get encouragements and words—“stand strong”—but without any help. No country is assuring us about our struggle and our fight for principles.
I believe that there are people in other countries who believe in democracy—who would stand with us. But what I see missing in the whole struggle is likeminded friends to come and support people like us at this moment.
Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian Special Correspondent as well as Non-Resident Senior Fellow for the Indo-Pacific at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.