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May 27, 2017

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Gov't preparing to evacuate diplomats from Solomon Islands

Taiwan is preparing for an emergency evacuation of its Solomon Islands ambassador and around ten diplomatic staff but believes the situation in the strife-ridden Pacific nation is likely to stabilize, a foreign affairs official said yesterday.

Foreign affairs spokesman Michel Lu said Taipei had made plans to evacuate its diplomatic staff April 28 but stressed that Australian and New Zealand troops in the Solomons were maintaining law and order.

"The situation should stabilize," Lu said.

The Solomon Islands in recent days has seen a wave of riots directed at ethnic Chinese, a relatively prosperous group. Hundreds of ethnic Chinese refugees have left the Solomons after two days of mob violence, arson and looting devastated Honiara's Chinatown district last week.

The riots were sparked by rumors that either China or Taiwan had paid lawmakers to elect an unpopular new prime minister, Snyder Rini, prompting a surge of anti-Asia sentiment.

The Solomons — like many other Pacific island countries — is caught in a tug of war for diplomatic influence between rivals Beijing and Taipei, which have lavished financial aid on the region in a battle for diplomatic recognition.

The nation is one of a handful that official recognizes Taiwan but China is trying to lure it and Taiwan's other diplomatic allies away. Beijing and Taipei have repeatedly denied having any influence on Rini's election.

Beijing has been helping with evacuations and protection of ethnic Chinese islanders, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwanese and Chinese citizens.

Lu rejected China's offer of help, saying Taiwan didn't need it as there were only two Taiwanese families living in the Solomons and the Taiwan embassy could give them enough support.

The ministry on April 21 posted a travel warning advising Taiwanese not to visit the Pacific nation.

Data from the foreign ministry shows there are over 1,000 ethnic Chinese living in the Solomons, with most originating from Hong Kong and Canton. Over 500 of these people have formally become Solomons Islands nationals. Cantonese is the most common dialect spoken in the Pacific nation

In related reports, Lu said Taiwan did not have a representative office in Nepal and therefore did not need to make plans to evacuate diplomatic staff. The ministry is warning travelers not to visit the nation, which is experiencing political unrest.

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