Premier Suidani and others are on the front line now, but if they aren’t supported, and their cause fails, the front line expands. President Tsai understands this, and she took a stand, for the people of the Solomons, the people of Taiwan, and for all of us.
Alexandria, Virginia, US: At its most basic, this is about a man of courage and principle who needed help. And a woman of courage and principle, who helped him. Which is how it should be. But it is not how Beijing wants it to be. And that’s a problem. A problem for all of us.
Let me explain.
In September 2019, after over three decades of diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the country of the Solomon Islands switched recognition to China. It was a unilateral decision made by the central government—it hadn’t been brought up as an issue during the national elections just five months before, and there was widespread discontent with “the switch”, as it became known, including at the provincial level.
Daniel Suidani, the Premier of the most populous province in the Solomon Islands, Malaita, was one of the most vocal and eloquent speaking out against the switch. There were attempts to bribe him and, when that didn’t work, to threaten him.
Still he insisted he wanted his province to stay free of CCP influence—saying that if you work with authoritarian governments, you become more authoritarian—and he believed in democracy, transparency and accountability to the people who elected him.
And then he got sick. He got severe headaches, and local doctors said he needed a CT scan. But there was no machine in the country. The central government stonewalled his requests for support to go abroad, though reportedly there were hints to his team that if he changed his position on China everything would be resolved. He refused.
There aren’t many people outside China who can say they’d rather die than give in to the CCP. Daniel Suidani is one of them. Within China, of course, there are jails and concentration camps and cemeteries full of them.
The Australians said they could give him a visa to go to Australia for treatment, but he would have to fund it himself. The Australian hospital told him he’d have to come up with around $100,000 up front. Being an honest politician, he didn’t have $100,000. His friends started a “go fund me” and gathered enough to get him to Australia, but not for the treatment.
Which is when Prof M.D. Nalapat heard about the situation. He got in touch with friends in Taiwan and, as a result, President Tsai—recognizing a fellow person of courage and principle in need of help—extended an invitation to Premier Suidani in the name of the people of Taiwan to come to the country for medical treatment. Premier Suidani is currently in Taiwan, and is on the road to recovery.
But the fact that it almost didn’t happen uncovered some very serious issues. Ones that risk destabilizing the entire region.
First, it showed that China is essentially exporting its social credit approach, where the powers of the state (or in the case of the Solomon Islands, a proxy state) are used to coerce—to the point of death—dissent.
Second, in spite of New Zealand trumpeting its values and saying it is spending millions to build up accountable, transparent, democratic governance in region, when a real leader of that sort needed help there was complete silence. To this day no major New Zealand media has even covered the story.
Third, it raises serious questions about Australia, for the same reasons as New Zealand. However, to their credit, there were some in Australia who understood the situation and wanted to do something about it, with the Australian newspaper bluntly saying, “Taiwan Steps in as Australia bows out”.
In the end, and this is the fourth point, it came down to good people taking risks to do the right thing for strangers who are also trying to do the right thing. Premier Suidani, Prof Nalapat and Dr Tsai all showed what courage and principles could accomplish, and in so doing stymied an attempted bureaucratic murder of democracy—and possibly a democratic leader himself—in the Solomon Islands.
Those lessons are important to learn because this isn’t over. Soon, Premier Suidani will be heading back to the Solomon Islands. There are rumours that the government is looking into charging him with treason.
The Chinese embassy already lodged a complaint saying the Premier’s medical trip to Taiwan breached the agreement of the Solomon Islands to adhere to the One China Policy. This raises a range of questions, including, are all the Chinese citizens who travel to Taiwan for medical treatment also treasonous? And in this new world of Chinese proxies, is disrespecting Beijing now the same as disrespecting your own government?
This isn’t over. Premier Suidani has enormous support. If he is arrested on return, there are risks of reigniting a civil war. This is what it means to bring in China. All that is anti-CCP has to die, smothered by the proxy, or the country will be tortured. Canberra, Wellington and others can’t hide from this. If China is allowed to prevail in killing democracy in the Solomons, it is one step closer to doing it in Australia and New Zealand.
Premier Suidani and others are on the front line now, but if they aren’t supported, and their cause fails, the front line expands. President Tsai understands this, and she took a stand, for the people of the Solomons, the people of Taiwan, and for all of us. The only way to resist is to grow and reinforce that network. To push against the line, to regain ground for democracy. We didn’t start this, and it is not going to end on its own. We are running out of time.
The Solomon Islands was the site of some of the bloodiest and hardest fought battles for freedom of World War II—including the Battle of Guadalcanal. This time around, some don’t even want to notice the battle has already started, let alone that freedom is at serious risk of being lost.
So, the question is, where do you stand?
Cleo Paskal is Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and The Sunday Guardian Special Correspondent.