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  • Solomon Islands
  • Joseph Daniel Foukona (bio)

As in the previous year, Solomon Islands politics in 2021 continued to be fundamentally colored by the People's Republic of China (PRC)'s direct diplomatic presence in the country since September 2019 and the global upheaval caused by the covid-19 pandemic. The PRC is deliberately expanding its reach across the Pacific as it seeks to attain influence over what has long been a region dominated by other global powers. The deleterious effects of the covid-19 pandemic on economies across the globe have also caused some drawing back by countries hitherto deeply involved in the Pacific. These factors have been central to the policy of the ruling Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (dcga) and the responses of domestic political actors, which have generated political divisions and mistrust at the national and subnational levels. The government's 2021 budget focus on funding key redirection policy priorities has prompted a Honiara-centric approach. Together, these policies, as well as infrastructure projects, have created a setting in which policy and political dynamics have become highly fragmented, with the dominance of the capital enforced by the declaration of a nationwide state of public emergency.

This declaration was justified by the economic crisis brought about by the effects of covid-19 on Solomon Islands. The Central Bank of Solomon Islands' monthly economic bulletins for January and February indicated a decrease in the country's production index, which was due to the weak performance of all major commodities. The bank estimated that the domestic economy would "grow by 0.4 percent in 2021, down from the initially projected growth of 1.5 percent" (cbsi 2021b). Such change in the real gdp resulted from the "prolonged impact of covid-19 pandemic, border restrictions and weaker-than-expected performances across broad sectors of the economy" (cbsi 2021b). To manage the country's dire economic situation, the dcga introduced a new budget strategy in 2021 with the theme "Towards a Path to Economic Recovery: Advancing Growth and Services Delivery Through Better Partnerships" (Solomon Star 2021a). These "partnerships" included the hitherto less visible PRC. In order to implement the budget theme, the government used what officials called its "redirection policy," which they claimed aimed both to protect Solomon Islanders "from the spread of the covid 19 pandemic and to keep the domestic economy afloat and to accelerate recovery" (Solomon Star 2021a).

The government faced a big income deficit in 2021 due mostly to the [End Page 490] effects of the pandemic. As a result of the drop in domestic income from taxes and weak economic production, the minister of finance and treasury stated in his 2021 budget speech that the new budget planned for an overall government deficit of si$329 million (us$41.1 million). This deficit meant that the overall revenue expected by the government, an estimated si$3.710 billion (us$460 million), would total only si$3.009 billion (us$380 million) of domestic government revenue. The remaining balance would have to be sourced domestically and from traditional multilateral and bilateral partners (Kuma 2021). "Budget Support Revenue from Donor partners is $259 million, $90 million support from the People's Republic of China, $12 million for the Economic Stimulus Package, and $341 million in development financing sourced from bilateral and development partners. The Total Development Budget for 2021 is $938 million of which $848 million is sig [Solomon Islands Government] funded and the remaining $90 million is funded by the Peoples Republic of China [sic] support towards constituency development projects" (sig 2021a, 3–4). It is here that China's key role in Solomon Islands' ruling party's politics becomes clear. Without detailing China's direct contribution to the budget, the government addressed this problem by offering both a new deficit budget and a slogan to justify this deficit. Because the government did not admit to collecting considerable funds directly from China, the public had no way of knowing how the redirection policy and its slogan worked. Thus, there was considerable confusion among the public. The Solomon Star reported that as "the Government prepares to bring down its 2021 $4 billion-plus budget, a huge 'mismatch' appears to...