NOOSA – In September 2019, the Solomon Islands ditched diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favour of the People’s Republic of China.
In return the Chinese pledged support for the Solomons in moving “forward in the development path it has chosen for itself”.
Now, eight months after John Fugui was installed as the new ambassador to China, he has revealed what form that pledge will take.
In a statement this week, the former member of parliament validated concerns expressed by the United States and Australia about Beijing’s increasing clout in the region.
Fugui is a former Solomon Islands politician, and probably the only one to hold three master’s degrees: one from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and two more from the University of Hawai'i in the United States.
He has canvassed a long list of the negotiations and discussions now taking place between the two countries, including a direct air link between Honiara and Guangzhou, a port city near Hong Kong.
“Fujian Province also has expressed similar interest on a route between Fujian, Manila and Honiara,” Fugui said from Beijing.
It is proposed to bring in 50,000 tourists a year under a state-directed program in which China will organise tourists to travel to Solomon Islands. “This is one way to boost government revenue,” he said.
Fugui pointed to the plentiful business opportunities in tourism, fisheries, agriculture, information technology and timber products, including round log exports.
Negotiations have also begun on student exchanges and to establish a Chinese bank in the Solomons.
“The more competition we have between the financial institutions, the better,” he said. “We have banks with huge liquidity but they are not lending much to Solomon Islanders.”
Fugui said that last year Solomons had joined the new China-Pacific Island Fishery Forum at its first meeting, which included discussions on fish farming, aquaculture, tuna and bêche-de-mer projects.
“In this forum we meet interested parties who want to establish fishery firms in the Pacific for countries that have diplomatic ties with China – this is the first of its kind,” he said.
Negotiations are continuing about agricultural products like coconuts, noni, kava, ginger and mushrooms.
“China is the world’s biggest market for these commodities,” Fugui said. “There is a huge possibility that we can market our products there.”
He said a big challenge is that China requires supplies in great volume. “My only concern is that we will not have enough supply.”
Another aspect of Fugui’s negotiations in China involves establishing relationships between provinces and businesses in the Solomons with provinces and businesses in China.
“So far Western Province is establishing sister-relations with Fujian and Renbel is also expressing interest in establishing sister-relations with Hainan,” he said.
“To have relations with China, because the bureaucracy is so big, it is important to narrow down shared interests to relations between cities or provinces.”
Fugui is also keen on forging relationships between the Solomon Islands National University and institutions in China.
“We want to improve our economy but education and training are foundational.
“I want to increase education opportunities and research exchanges,” he said.
“The most important thing is we now have an office in Beijing. Whenever Solomon Islanders come to China, they have a home here.
“In terms of diplomatic relations, China can speak to us right in Beijing,” he said.