|It was pitched as a rare repatriation flight to bring people stranded in China back to their Pacific Island home which has yet to report a single coronavirus case.
But of the 104 people on board the chartered Solomon Airlines flight from the southern Chinese city Guangzhou on September 3, only 21 were from the Solomon Islands.
The rest were Chinese nationals, according to a report by Radio New Zealand which cited the passenger list.
In the days before the flight landed in the country's humid capital, Honiara, local politicians and non-governmental bodies urged the Solomon Islands' Prime Minister to call it off.
Despite China reporting just a handful of new coronavirus cases each day for the past few months, to some, the risk was too great. The Solomon Islands' borders have been almost entirely sealed for months. This flight, they worried, could bring the first reported case of Covid-19 into the country of almost 700,000, and wreak devastation on its poor health system.
But the government didn't listen.
For Daniel Suidani, the premier of the country's most populous province, Malaita, the nation's leaders were putting their new relationship with Beijing before their own people. The Solomon Islands swapped allegiances with the democratic self-governed island of Taiwan for communist Beijing last year. Beijing considers Taiwan part of China, and refuses to have diplomatic relations with any nation that doesn't recognize its "One China Policy."
Two days before the Honiara flight was due to land, Suidani announced an independence referendum for Malaita.
"Our conviction is that the ... administration has become so obliged and indebted to China that it can no longer provide essential services to protect its citizens' public health," he said in a statement emailed to CNN. "It is time for Malaita people to see whether they are still willing to be part of a country (whose) leadership is becoming dictatorial."
CNN reached out to the Solomon Islands' central government for comment on the allegation that they are no longer looking after their people, but received no response.
While longtime Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare welcomes China and the economic benefits it promises, some fear that Beijing is too powerful to be an equal partner for the Solomon Islands. The Solomon Islands has reportedly considered leasing an entire island to China and debated offering investment-for-citizenship deals to mainland Chinese.
China's foreign ministry told CNN that the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Solomon Islands had been "open and fair."
"Any rumors and slanders cannot affect the development of friendly relations between China and the Solomon Islands," the spokesperson said.
In the Solomon Islands' verdant capital, Honiara, there's a stretch of land with scars of the famous Battle of Guadalcanal, a World War II campaign that was the Allied forces' first decisive victory in the Pacific theater.
Now, some of that land has been earmarked for a new stadium bankrolled by China -- and it has become the symbol of a new type of battleground.
After the Solomon Islands won the right to host the 2023 Pacific Games -- the region's answer to the Olympics -- the country was in need of a venue to host athletic events. In July 2019, the Solomon Islands' diplomatic ally of more than three decades, Taiwan, agreed to ...