CANBERRA, Australia - Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare blamed foreign interference on Friday after he switched alliances from Taiwan to Beijing for anti-government protests, arson and looting that have ravaged the capital Honiara.
The unrest was blamed for complaints of a lack of government services and accountability, corruption, and Chinese businesses giving jobs to foreigners instead of locals, according to critics.
The rioters, looters and protesters who have demanded Sogavare, who has been prime minister since 2000, resigned from Honiara s Chinatown and its downtown precinct.
The National Parliament building, a police station and businesses have been set ablaze during two tumultuous days in which police failed to control the mob.
In 2019, Sogavare angered many, especially leaders of the most populous province of the Solomon Islands, Malaita, when he cut the country's diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Malaita leaders complain that their island has been unfairly deprived of government investment since the change.
A plane carrying Australian police and diplomats arrived in Honiara late Thursday, where they will help local police efforts to restore order, Australia's Defense Minister Peter Dutton said.
Sogavare said he stood by his government's decision to embrace Beijing, which he described as the only issue in the violence that was influenced and encouraged by other powers. External pressures were a big influence. I don't want to name names. We'll leave it there, Sogavare said.
I'm not going to bow down to anyone. He said we are intact, the government is intact and we are going to defend democracy.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne did not agree that other countries had stirred up the unrest.
We have not indicated that at all, Payne said.
We have been very clear. We don't want to see violence. She said we would very much hope for a return to stability.
Local journalist Gina Kekea said the foreign policy switch to Beijing with little public consultation was one of the issues that led to the protests. There were complaints that foreign companies were not providing local jobs.
Most Chinese businesses and other Asian businesses seem to have the most of the work, especially when it comes to extracting resources, which people feel strongly about, Kekea said.
On Friday, the protesters had been replaced by looters and scavengers in Chinatown, Kekea said.
It has been two days, two whole days of looting and protesting and rioting in Honiara, and Kekea said of the home of 85,000 people.
She said that there is nothing much left for them to loot and spoil now.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison committed troops, police and diplomats to help local police restore order and protect critical infrastructure.
Some observers argue that Australia intervened quickly to avoid Chinese security forces moving in to restore order.
Morrison said Sogavare had asked for help because he trusted Australia.
Morrison said that the Solomon Islands reached out to us first as family because they trust us and we ve worked hard for that trust in the Pacific.
That is our region and we're standing up to secure our region with our partners, our friends, our family and allies, he said.
Sogavare requested assistance from Australia under a bilateral security treaty that existed since 2017, when Australian peacekeepers left the Solomon Islands.
Australia led an international police and military force called the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands that restored peace in the country after bloody ethnic violence from 2003 to 2017 on the country's behalf.
Morrison was questioned if Chinese citizens and businesses were being targeted. He described the unrest as a mixed story and noted that Chinatown was the scene of riots before Australia s 2003 intervention.
China expressed concern about recent attacks on some Chinese citizens and institutions, but did not provide any details.
The Solomon Islands government can restore social order and stability as soon as possible under the leadership of Prime Minister Sogavare, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian.
He said that economic and other cooperation has benefited both sides since the establishment of diplomatic relations.
Any attempts to undermine the normal development of China-Solomon relations are futile, he said.
The Solomon Islands, located about 1,000 miles northeast of Australia, was the scene of bloody fighting during World War II.
After it was captured by the Japanese, U.S. Marines landed on the island of Guadalcanal in August 1942 to start a campaign to wrest back control. They were successful, though fighting in and around the Solomon Islands continued through the end of the war.