The Solomon Islands Election: An Inflection Point Between China and US Power

Growing tensions between the US and China in the Pacific have put the Solomon Islands election in an unforeseen limelight in world affairs. The election began last Thursday and the results are not expected for several weeks. Due to the island’s history with anti-government riots and inter-tribal violence, police and defense forces from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji are assisting with election security.  China is also a principal concern because the election is the first since Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare formed a security pact with China in 2022. Taken together, the election will be an important inflection point determining future Western involvement, and, crucially, the balance of power between the US and China in the region. 

The current Prime Minister, Sogavare, has been prime minister four times, but he plans to run again this April as the leader of the Ownership, Unity, and Responsibility Party. According to Reuters, his opponents have openly criticized his security pact with China due to their police presence on the islands. Prominent opposition figures include Matthew Hale, leader of the Solomon Islands Democratic Party, which has pledged to boost education and fix the medicine scarcity crisis in hospitals. Peter Kenilorea of the United Party plans to scrap the Chinese security pact all together and create infrastructure partnerships with Western countries to reduce Beiging’s influence. Parkar Novak, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub, told VOA in a written response that “the results will determine whether the Solomon Islands continues growing its relationship with China or changes course in favor of a different approach.” Due to these high geopolitical stakes, many countries spanning the Pacific as well as China and the US are monitoring the Solomon Islands’ election.

Given the Pacific Island nation’s association with China and its own internal volatile history with electoral security, the West has taken appropriate preventative action by providing assistance with election security. China has a long history of being associated with election fraud ever since the controversy that followed the 2016 US election. Knowing this, it stands to reason that the US and its allies be especially cautious to Chinese actions in the small archipelago nation due to the Chinese police presence in the islands. Hence, police and defense forces from Western allies are a necessary component to not only maintain the peace, but also protect the right of fair elections.

The current Prime Minister of the Soloman islands is a controversial figure. When Sogavare first became prime minister, he immediately switched ties from Taiwan to Beijinng in 2019 soon after. From the beginning of his appointment Sogavare has pledged to strengthen relations with China. As a result, China has built ports, roads, telecommunications networks, and even donated stadiums for the Solomon Islands to host the Pacific Games. Many Solomon Islanders however have grown wary of China due to both the security pact made in 2022 and the increasing Chinese police presence that has come with it. Citizens of the Solomon Islands are critical of the lack of visibility behind the purpose of the security pact. Additionally, it is Sovogavare’s fourth nonconsecutive term in running for office. With the country’s struggle in providing health services, education, and adequate roads, many Solomon Islanders are longing for change and are looking toward the election with hope.

Growing tensions between the rivalry of the US and China have consequently put the Solomon Islands election in the spotlight due to its regional implications on security. The election’s outcomes will likely determine the balance of power in the region between the West and China, as well as highly influence the behavior and degree of Western involvement toward the future. Furthermore, the election’s emphasis on electoral security also promotes the crucial importance of maintaining the right of fair elections amidst the rise of authoritarian regimes across the globe.