September 20, 2019 / 10:14 AM / 24 days ago

Solomon Islands students to move to China after diplomatic break with Taiwan

SYDNEY (Reuters) - More than 100 Solomon Islands students will be transferred to China from self-ruled Taiwan early next year, after the South Pacific nation switched diplomatic ties to Beijing, the Solomons leader said on Friday.

Kiribati followed the Solomon Islands this month in shifting ties to China, giving it two wins in the bid to strip allies from what it considers a wayward province with no right to state-to-state ties.

But for the Solomon Islands, the move has left in limbo the future of 125 of its students in Taiwan, which runs student exchange programs only with countries that have diplomatic ties, media in both Taiwan and the Solomons said.

“The government of (China) made an undertaking to take over and improve on all the programs...beginning with the immediate transfer of our students in Taiwan to China at the end of the current semester,” Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said in a statement.

The Solomon Islands would bring the students home “on the first available charter flight if that is necessary”, but Taiwan had agreed to let their studies continue until the current semester ends next January, he added.

Sogavare gave no details of plans for the students after the transfer.

In his first public statement since the diplomatic switch, Sogavare said the Solomons made the change after 36 years because of uncertainty about Taiwan’s election in 2020 and the prospect of a reliable development partner in China.

Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party favours unification and the Solomons was “better served making a decision that reflects our long-term development interests rather than being uncertain over what might happen should one day Taiwan democratically decide to reunite with mainland China”, he said.

China had already offered to help pay for a stadium for the 2023 Pacific Games, to be hosted by the Solomons, Sogavare said, potentially inflaming tension with the Malaita province which retains strong support for the United States.

“My government has been ... assured by the Beijing government that they will step in to assist us in the transition period and beyond, including the funding and construction of the SPG2023 stadium,” Sogavare said.

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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