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Symbol of Pacific resistance to China garners support from U.S. lawmakers after his visa is denied

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — In a move that surprised many Pacific watchers, the U.S. has denied a visa to former premier Daniel Suidani of the Solomon Islands most populous province, Malaita. Now there is Congressional bipartisan support to try to ensure a second application sees a better outcome.

The purpose of the visa is an invitation to meet with leaders in Honolulu, Washington, D.C., New York, and Seattle to share his experience of indigenous environmental guardianship

On March 31, Pacific Island Caucus co-Chairs Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata (R-American Samoa) and Congressman Ed Case (D-Hawaii) sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reading in part: "Having had his application turned down once, we strongly encourage the timely issuance of the visa. Please provide your full and fair consideration of this request consistent with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.”

An early supporter of Suidani, Congressman Neal Dunn M.D. (R-Florida) told Cleo Paskal — a senior fellow for the Indo-Pacific at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “The denial of Daniel Suidani’s VISA application is suspicious and unusual. Mr. Suidani displayed tremendous courage in barring CCP-linked [Chinese Communist Party] companies from his providence while serving as Premier. He should be welcomed to the U.S. with open arms, not with more hurdles. I support his decision to reapply, and I look forward to assisting him through this process.”

The outcome of the second application will be closely watched in Washington, and Beijing. What happens next will say a lot about where the U.S. State Dept. stands on the People’s Republic of China vs the U.S. policy in the Pacific.

BACKGROUND

In September, 2019, the prime minister of Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, switched Solomons’ diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China.

In October 2019, Daniel Suidani, premier of Solomons’ most populous province, Malaita and backed by the rest of the provincial leadership including the traditional chiefs, issued what is known as the “Auki Communiqué,” calling for a moratorium on CCP-linked businesses operating in the province.

The communiqué expressed concern about development that would negatively affect the province socially, economically, environmentally, and politically, adding Malaitans recognize “freedom of religion as a fundamental right… therefore [the Malaitan provincial government] rejects the CCP and its formal systems based on atheist ideology.”

The Communiqué was a direct calling out of the CCP and its domestic persecution of people of faith – and, according to the U.S. government, of genocide in the case of Turkic Muslims.

While intended just as a provincial policy, it was a remarkable drawing of a line in the sand that called attention to the silence and acquiescence of others. As such, from the point of view of Beijing, Suidani came to represent a threat to the legitimacy of the CCP.

By February 2023 Sogavare and Beijing’s alleged proxies in the Solomons were successful in a campaign to oust Suidani and his coalition from government. This came after Sogavare postponed in August of 2022 the scheduled 2023 election, claiming the country didn’t have the money to host the Pacific Games and an election in the same year. He chose the Games over the elections.

Regardless of the concerns on the part of people of Solomons who wanted their scheduled elections, none of the other Pacific Games participant countries suggested postponing the Games until elections could be held. Australia even offered money to assist with the Games.

In an editorial statement in the Aia-Pacific Diplomat, Cleo Paskal a non-resident senior fellow for the Indo-Pacific at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies said:

“Suidani has become a standard bearer (one of many – though all increasingly embattled – including President David Panuelo of Micronesia and President Surangel Whipps of Palau) fighting the CCP takeover of their countries. That’s why what happens at Suidani’s upcoming visa interview is so important.

Paskal quoted a former senior U.S. government official with knowledge of the area, and the issues who said, “Denial of visa for an opposition leader invites speculation about how and why. When some actions by U.S. officials are being interpreted as appeasement of [a] regime aligned with [the] PRC, this visa application should have been routinely approved. U.S. officials aware of the threat to rule of law and respect for civil and political rights in the Pacific should be conscientious about avoiding even the appearance of selective vigilance regarding freedom of routine travel.”

Read more on the background of this issue in an article by Paskal at The Diplomat.