Solomon Islands Names Ex-FM Manele Leader in Win for China

(Bloomberg) -- Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele has secured the support of lawmakers to become the nation’s new prime minister, reinforcing China’s influence in the Pacific country even after the departure of pro-Beijing leader Manasseh Sogavare.

Most Read from Bloomberg

Fifty lawmakers voted by secret ballot on the next prime minister in the capital, Honiara, on Thursday, a little over two weeks after a national vote saw Sogavare’s Ownership, Unity and Responsibility party fail to win a majority in parliament.

Speaking after the result, Manele thanked lawmakers for their support while foreshadowing difficult times ahead for the nation’s economy which would need “a more focused and aggressive approach.”

Manele’s election as prime minister is likely to be well-received in China as it offers the prospect of continuity in the Pacific nation’s foreign policy. Beijing had faced a possible scaling back of ties under the leadership of opposition candidates Matthew Wale and Peter Kenilorea Jr.

Yet despite being the Solomon Islands’ foreign minister for almost five years, Manele is unlikely to strictly follow the pro-China policy of his predecessor, according to Mihai Sora, a former Australian diplomat and research fellow at the Lowy Institute think tank.

“There was a personal touch to Sogavare’s leadership, and he clearly had an ax to grind against countries like Australia. He made it difficult for the US to rebuild that relationship,” Sora said.

“What we can expect from Manele is that he will be more receptive to offers of cooperation and assistance from a range of partners.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese moved quickly to congratulate Manele on his win, saying Thursday that he looked forward to working closely with him. “Australia and Solomon Islands are close friends and our futures are connected,” he said.

A former diplomat, Manele worked with Australia and other nations during a Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands which helped maintain order in the country between 2003 and 2017.

“He is a soft-spoken politician but a smart leader with a vast experience as a career diplomat, a former opposition leader, minister of planning and aid coordination and foreign affairs,” said former Solomon Islands journalist Priestley Habru, now a PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide.

The Solomon Islands switched its diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 2019. But the biggest development came in 2022 when it was announced that Sogavare had signed a controversial security pact with China, provoking alarm in Washington and Canberra.

A leaked draft version of the agreement would have allowed Chinese warships to enjoy safe harbor some 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) from the Australian coast.

Some opposition candidates for prime minister had raised the possibility of renewing closer ties with Taiwan and re-examining the security pact with China.

(Updates with acceptance speech.)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.