A new report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has revealed that Beijing is spreading false information in the Solomon Islands in an attempt to undermine its partnerships with Australia and the United States.
The report entitled “Suppressing the Truth and Spreading Lies: How the CCP is influencing Solomon Islands’ information environment,” published on Oct. 5, examined how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) used local media and disinformation to sway public opinion and undermine the Solomons’ existing partnerships with countries such as Australia and the United States during the mass protest in its capital Honiara last year.
In a protest in November 2021, hundreds of demonstrators massed outside the parliament building to protest stalled economic development, government corruption and cronyism.
The protestors voiced concerns about the growing CCP influence in the country and demanded to oust Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who switched the nation’s diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing. The authorities’ heavy-handed handling of the protests led to mass unrest. Shops in Chinatown were looted and burned during the protest.
CCP Blames US, Australia, and Taiwan for the Unrest
In the immediate aftermath of the Honiara riots, the CCP tried to blame Australia, the United States, and Taiwan for inciting unrest, according to the report.
“In the weeks that followed, CCP officials were also active in pushing a narrative that ‘foreign forces with ulterior motives’ were aiming to smear the relationship between the Solomon Islands and China,” reads an ASPI statement.
“That narrative was pushed through party-state media (both in English and in Chinese) through statements from Chinese officials that were shared by the Chinese Embassy, published in local media outlets, and quoted by local journalists,” reads the report.
US and Australia Described As ‘Colonialist Bullies’
After a proposed security agreement between the CCP and the Solomon Islands was leaked online in March 2022, the communist regime “sought to further undermine Solomon Islands’ relations with Australia and the US.”
At the time, both the United States and Australia sought high-level meetings with Prime Minister Sogavare to discuss their concerns over the security agreement.
Additionally, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected a meeting with the Chinese Ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, saying it would be a sign of “weakness.”
During the time, the CCP pushed a similar narrative that “Australia and the U.S. were colonialist bullies that were threatening Solomon Islands’ sovereignty.”
Over the two observed periods (18 weeks in total), the CCP’s party-state media outlets published a total of 67 articles about events in the Solomon Islands. Of the 67, 47 articles (70 percent) directly supported the CCP’s narratives attempting to undermine Solomon Islands’ existing relationships (predominantly with the United States and Australia. The remaining 30 percent reported on the issue without a clear agenda.
CCP’s Influence on Local Media
According to ASPI’s analysis, the CCP’s most concerned channel of influence in shaping Solomon’s information environment was “the publication of CCP official–led articles in local media,” which included opinion pieces, press releases, and locally produced articles that almost contained no direct quotes from the CCP officials.
“These publications came wrapped in the packaging of a trusted local media source and allowed the CCP to spread its message to a wider audience, resulting in greater penetration and engagement,” reads the report.
“In this case of the Honiara riots, CCP officials had almost as many statements published in local media discussing the cause of the riots as the Solomon Islands’ own government officials.”
The report authors also found that the Chinese Embassy is in close contact with several media outlets in the Solomon Islands.
For instance, the China-Solomon Islands Friendship Association, which is part of the CCP’s United Front system, was found to have ties with some Solomon Islands policymakers and journalists.
What’s the Solution?
In response to disinformation campaigns by the CCP, the ASPI analysts encourage social media companies to provide contextual information on misinformation in national Pacific languages and label state affiliations on messages from state-controlled entities.
“Social media companies could encourage civil society to report state affiliations and provide evidence to help companies enforce their policies,” reads the report.
The authors also called for the U.S. and Australian governments to offer more support.
“Pacific island countries will need support as great-power competition intensifies in the region,” they wrote.
“The US, for example, can do more to demonstrate that the CCP’s narratives are false, such as proving Washington’s genuine interest in supporting the region by answering the call of the local Solomon Islands population to do more to clean up remaining unexploded World War II ordnance on Guadalcanal.”
“The Australian Government should coordinate with other foreign partners of Solomon Islands, including the US, New Zealand, Japan, and the EU, to further assist local Pacific media outlets in hiring, training and retaining high-quality professional journalists.”
Similarly, a Taiwanese academic also urged Australia to awaken further over Beijing’s “dangerous expansion” and assume more responsibility in the Pacific.
“What a good relationship the Solomon Islands [used to] have with Australia! But no matter how good you treat it, the CCP would bribe [its officials],” Dr. David Yeau-Tarn Lee, an adjunct professor at the Graduate Institute of Development Studies of National Chengchi University, previously told The Epoch Times.
“It’d be inevitable for Australia to face the consequence of [the CCP’s] dangerous expansion,” he said. “So I think Australia needs to awaken further.”
“It plays an important role in the confrontation between liberal democracy and autocracy.”