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VOA Asia Weekly: China Influence at Issue in Solomon Islands Election

VOA Asia Weekly: China Influence at Issue in Solomon Islands Election
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South Korea trainee doctors ignore government orders to go back to work. Japan's birthrate hits record low. India introduces astronauts for crewed mission. A historic first for a Japanese festival.

Solomon Islands weighs its relationships with the US and China in its upcoming election.

Welcome to VOA Asia Weekly. I'm Chris Casquejo in Washington. That story is coming up, but first, making headlines:

US President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday to enhance protection of Americans’ sensitive data from biometrics to finances. Biden is targeting curbing commercial data brokers to prevent the sale of information to foreign adversaries like China and Russia. The Justice Department aims to collaborate with Homeland Security to develop safety standards to prevent foreign adversaries from collecting data.

Thousands of South Korean trainee doctors refused to return to work on Thursday, after the government warned they could face medical license suspension and prosecution. In response, South Korea plans to deploy military and community doctors to hospitals to support the healthcare system. Two-thirds of the nation’s medical interns and residents have walked off their jobs for nine days to protest a government plan to increase the number of medical students next year.

Japan’s birthrate hit a record low in 2023, falling for the eighth consecutive year. Government data released on Tuesday indicates a 5.1 percent decline in births from the previous year. The government plans to take unprecedented steps to address what officials are calling a critical situation.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday revealed the four astronauts for the country's ambitious space mission, “Gaganyaan.” It aims to develop a human-habitable space capsule that will carry a crew into an orbit of 400 kilometers for three days, before returning to safety in a planned splashdown in the Indian Ocean. India is attempting to become the fourth country to send a crewed mission into space after the US, Russia, and China.

The U.S. company Maxar Technologies released a satellite image revealing a new floating barrier in the South China Sea. It blocks the mouth of a shoal where the Chinese coast guard recently claimed to have driven off a Philippine vessel for ‘illegally intruding” into waters claimed by Beijing.

Solomon Islands residents go to the polls April 17th to elect their national leadership. The elections could be consequential not only for the islanders but also for the United States and China, as VOA’s Jessica Stone reports.

Look around the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara, and you’ll see Chinese investment on every corner.

The 10,000-seat national stadium used in the 2023 Pacific Games as backed by $220 million in Chinese investment.

Upgrades at the port of Honiara.

And a spacious Chinese embassy which opened one year after the Solomon Islands ended their diplomatic ties to Taiwan in favor of Beijing under the leadership of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare whose OUR party is hoping to maintain power in April’s national elections. Sogavare pledges to continue to draw closer to China with a foreign policy he calls “Look North.”

“Our party’s approach will focus on strengthening our relationship with China through a Look North foreign policy.”

Sogavare’s main opposition – the CARE Party – is led by Matthew Wale, a vocal critic of the island’s increased dependence on Chinese investment.

“You know the loyalty of your government is not to the people of the Solomon Islands not to you, but to those who financed them.”

Wale advocated a public referendum on the 2022 security pact reached with Beijing and told VOA he doesn’t support over-reliance on any one development partner.

“We seek a balanced engagement in the international arena, an engagement that has national interests of the Solomon Islands at its forefront.”

For some Solomon Islanders, foreign policy is not top of mind.

“The concept of free education from primary to secondary is one thing that I’ve always been interested in.”

But Pacific expert Greg Brown says 80 percent of Solomon Islanders live in rural areas and may not see any benefits from Chinese investment.

“I might wonder if this investment will appear in my community. Will my people, my neighbors, my family reap the benefits? Or will the money stay in the capital or in the bank account of elites?”

Brown says a win by the OUR party is a win for China and will be evidence the United States is losing influence in the region. The election is April 17th.

Jessica Stone, VOA News.

Visit for the most up-to-date stories.

I’m Chris Casquejo.

Finally, a first in Japan.

Women officially joined the “naked festival” for the first time in its history. The festival is a tradition where men wear loincloths to pray for good luck.

Chanting women wore purple robes as they carried a large bamboo trunk as an offering.

Thanks for watching VOA Asia Weekly.