Solomon Islands: Where to now?
Waku is the pijin English name for the increasingly diverse local Asian community of the Solomon Islands. They have played a large role in the economy for several decades and more recently some have become involved in politics. Some Asians have participated in corruption which helped destabilise the Government in the decades leading up 1998 when the ‘crisis years’ began. During the crisis years (1998-2003) some Waku elements prospered through duty remissions and special deals. The fishery and forestry Audit Reports presented to Parliament in October 2005 show clearly that Japanese, South Korean and Malaysian companies took advantage of the disturbed situation to increase their plunder of the nation’s natural resources. The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) which arrived in mid-2003, is intent on exposing corruption and enforcing accountability, but so far the emphasis is on seeking out corrupt indigenous officials. RAMSI has not tackled the illegal operations of the largely Asian-controlled foreign companies. The April 2006 devastation that occurred in Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands, after the election of Snyder Rini as Prime Minister, was targeted at the Chinese. But the underlying dynamic tensions are much wider, and include large-scale corrupt business practices by Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, Malaysian and Philippines companies as well as by the diverse local Chinese community. Politicians have blamed the Republic of China for its dollar diplomacy and the media has made much of the Taiwanese connection to the Solomon Islands. However, it would be a mistake to suggest that there is a large Taiwanese element in the local Waku community or that the Waku have benefited from this corrupt diplomacy. A Waku rogue element certainly exists, but it stretches across the several Asian communities. Although there are long-term smouldering resentments against the economic hold of the ‘Old’ Chinese citizens, indigenous Solomon Islanders regard them very differently from the more recent Chinese residents and citizens who are mainly from mainland China. The real beneficiaries of Taiwanese largess have been indigenous Solomon Islands politicians, who are now deflecting attention onto the Chinese retailers to provide a reason for the disgraceful burning and looting that took place. The underlying question is whether any one indigenous ethnic group orchestrated the unrest, and whether the remnants of the Malaita Eagle Force are behind the burning and looting of Chinatown and other Chinese business ventures. The picture that is slowly emerging is of strategically targeted attacks, and that information existed before the outbreak that an orchestrated riot was about to begin. Local police knew which businesses would be targeted at least two hours before the riots began. RAMSI’s lack of intelligence of this and their lack of coordination with the local police indicates that long-term changes will be necessary if their operation is to retain any credibility.
Waku, Business and Corruption
The first Chinese settlers arrived as tradesmen during the 1920s, and then began to set up ‘Chinatown’ commercial settlements at Tulagi, Honiara and Gizo. They still control much of the retail trade in the country and are dominant in Honiara and in the main provincial towns. The Chinese community began to integrate into colonial society in the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, adopting Christianity, establishing a Chinese-language school, taking out British citizenship and deliberately becoming part of Solomon Islands society. One of the first signs of this change to permanent residence status was the establishment of Honiara’s Chinese Chung Wah School, organized and financed by Chinese residents and officially opened by Acting Resident Commissioner J.D.A. Germond on 15 October 1949. In the mornings teaching was in English and in Cantonese in the afternoons. The...
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