International Relations

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Edward Acton Cavanough

In 1767, a British navy expedition led by Rear Admiral Philip Carteret sailed past Santa Cruz and Malaita, through the straits around Savo, before venturing further west to chart much of what is now northeast Papua New Guinea. In 1893, London formalised its colonial acquisition of the Solomon Archipelago, establishing the British Solomon Islands Protectorate after negotiations with Germany for territorial concessions in New Guinea, the southern Solomons and towards Samoa. was then tasked with establishing a functioning government. Traders were already frequenting Charles Morris Woodford the archipelago, but Woodford was effectively building a colony from scratch. bour trade slowed in the mid-1930s, distant political machinations began to spill over into devastating conflict. By January 1942, Japan had seized control of Tulagi and expelled the British, placing much of the Solomon Archipelago under Tokyo’s control. In January 1943, the United States prevailed in the Battle of Guadalcanal.

in Divided Isles
Abstract only
Edward Acton Cavanough

When the Second World War reached the Solomons in 1942, the ethnic Malaitans became intimately involved. As the war wound down, these experiences gave rise to a new organisation that would aim to advance Malaitan national identity, pursue greater Malaitan autonomy and even wrest control of the island from the British altogether: Maasina Ruru, or Marching Rule. Maasina Ruru was founded by a handful of tribal leaders, but its message spread rapidly. Malaita’s long history of resistance to and scepticism of external influence continued after Solomon Islands emerged as an independent state in 1978. In 2019, a new candidate in Ward 5 of Fataleka Constituency, a mountainous, isolated district in Malaita’s northeast, put his hand up for election. His name was Daniel Suidani. The centrality of Malaita Province to the national affairs of Solomon Islands meant that Suidani now held one of the country’s most highprofile seats.

in Divided Isles
Abstract only
Edward Acton Cavanough

The author relates how it was becoming clear that Suidani’s strong anti-China stance - the mission that had made him internationally famous - was not universally accepted, with even some of its staunchest supporters starting to question whether their champion could deliver on his rhetoric. Many Malaitans appeared genuinely ambivalent about Chinese companies operating in their communities. The World Bank-funded Fiu Bridge project, which Suidani had scuttled after a Chinese company won a competitive tender to construct it, was just one of dozens of bridges that had fallen into disrepair. In early March 2023, the Malaitan provincial government was readying to reassemble after its Christmas break. Back home in Solomon Islands, Suidani’s tour and meeting with Chris Chappell and Cleo Paskal, had not gone unnoticed. In a post on the ‘Yumi TokTok Forum’ - one of the larger Facebook groups in Solomon Islands - praise for Suidani was common.

in Divided Isles
Edward Acton Cavanough

Between 1998 and his death in 2000, Solomon Mamaloni, as opposition leader, forged an intimate bond with Manasseh Sogavare, appointing him deputy opposition leader and schooling him on history, politics and a fringe economic philosophy known as ‘social credit’. Sogavare was the last of five sons born to Solomon Islander parents in Oro Province of Papua. It may have begun as an alliance of convenience, but their time together, from October 1998 until Mamaloni’s death in January 2000, came to deeply shape Sogavare’s political and philosophical views. Mamaloni taught Sogavare about Solomon Islands history, shared his controversial economic philosophies, retold stories of his countless political scrums and conveyed his scepticism of outside influences on their island home. Sogavare’s deeply ingrained scepticism of foreign interference, inflamed by the RAMSI intervention, was embedded in his new social-credit party’s DNA, but failed to achieve its lofty goal.

in Divided Isles
Abstract only
Edward Acton Cavanough

In this chapter, the author explains how he reached Atori’s west-coast village of Dala to meet Knoxley Atu, an active member of the Malaita Eagle Force. To the audience, Atu related the 1927 Malaita massacre, the British crackdown on Maasina Ruru, and how the governments of Solomon Mamaloni had worked to divide Malaitans against one another. He lambasted Sogavare, whom he decried as a corrupt and malign leader with an innately anti-Malaitan agenda, and soon descended into racially charged criticism of those in Honiara. For three years, Atu and his allies had been pushing the Malaita provincial government to prohibit Chinese investment. Many Malaitans remain apathetic or uninformed about the advantages and disadvantages of dealing with China. In Fataleka, there was no evidence of any benefits from aid or investment relationships with traditional Western donors: the region remained mired in subsistence living and acute poverty.

in Divided Isles
Edward Acton Cavanough

Like so many of the bureaucratic processes in the Solomons, catching transport around the country requires patience and creativity. Chinese immigration to Solomon Islands began as early as the late nineteenth century, albeit in very small numbers. Initially, the few dozen Chinese who came to the British Protectorate of Solomon Islands had come as labourers, following the precedent set in other British colonies and protectorates around the Pacific. As the country began its path towards independence in the 1960s and 1970s, the Chinese community made further efforts to assimilate: many converted to Christianity; others built schools. Malaita for Democracy, or M4D began piecing together a manifesto that it hoped would shape the Malaitan policy agenda. Although the Malaitan provincial government’s opposition to the Switch may have looked ironclad from the outset, in fact, the Suidani government’s response to the Switch was muted in the weeks after it was announced.

in Divided Isles
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Edward Acton Cavanough

In early 2022, as Sogavare prepared to finalise the security pact with China, several thousand kilometres to his south, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was bracing for an uphill election battle. China was intentionally dragging the Solomon Islands into their geopolitical battle with the United States. In the weeks after the controversial security partnership in April 2022 deal was leaked, Scott Morrison recognised that there was a need for the Australian government to press its case to Sogavare publicly. Sogavare took to the floor of parliament in Honiara, accusing Morrison of treating Solomon Islanders like ‘kindergarten students’. Morrison’s ‘red line’ comments, Sogavare said, could be understood as a ‘warning of military intervention’. The next morning, Wong and Conroy flew to Darwin to announce Labor’s detailed Pacific policy package.

in Divided Isles
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Edward Acton Cavanough

When, in late 1568, Alverado Mendaña’s Spanish brigantine first set off from the north coast of Isabel to explore more of the archipelago, the conquistador had one aim in mind: finding gold. The story of Nuñez’s tentative proclamation of gold on Guadalcanal didn’t go unnoticed by those who colonised the archipelago some 250 years later. In the two decades before Japan’s successful invasion of the archipelago, British prospectors had turned their attention to the area, albeit unsuccessfully. But the British focused primarily on the development of an agricultural export economy, a logging industry, and the labour trade between its regional possessions, rather than on mining. The Gold Ridge project, in Liloqula’s view, was rife with issues, and exemplified how the normalisation of corruption had allowed poor projects to become established in Solomon Islands.

in Divided Isles
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Edward Acton Cavanough

As the decolonisation movement swept through Britain’s colonies in the wake of World War Two, local administrators of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate had to make a series of decisions, such as establishing the British Colonial Development and Welfare Act. By 1973, Solomon Islands Plantation Limited and the British government’s Commonwealth Development Corporation entered into a joint partnership to develop the coconut plantations industry. This chapter details disastrous long-term consequences of an otherwise economically rational British economic intervention. In establishing the Tasimboko palm-oil plantations, the British successfully created an export commodity but, in doing so, fundamentally distorted the cultural status quo, planting the seeds for future conflict. As Solomon Islands’ civil strife dragged on into 2001, the geopolitical context in which Australia was operating markedly shifted. Solomon Islanders supported the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, or RAMSI, but it was seen as an undignified foreign intervention.

in Divided Isles
Abstract only
Edward Acton Cavanough

Ten months after the smoke had settled in Honiara, martial arts expert Wanghu was putting his class through its paces in Buala village, on the north coast of Santa Isabel Island. Over several days in October 2022, Wanghu led a group of forty young girls and boys from Buala through a kung-fu course, teaching them basic self-defence skills. He was a representative of the China Police Liaison Unit (CPLU), who had been making global headlines since their arrival in Solomon Islands in early 2022. For the most part, foreign observers framed Sogavare’s determination to establish the security pact with Beijing as part of a grand geopolitical struggle between East and West. Sogavare’s security partnership with China had also tempered the likelihood of widespread unrest in the future. The Solomon Islands community may have been sceptical of China, but many also feared its brutality, especially the Chinese style of policing.

in Divided Isles