Tiny Solomon Islands leader says concerns about closer ties with China are ‘very offensive’

Canberra, Australia – Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on Tuesday dismissed concerns that regional security could be jeopardized by a security treaty between the South Pacific island nation and China. The United States, Australia and New Zealand are among the nations that have raised concerns about a leaked draft bilateral deal.

Sogavare informed his national parliament that negotiations were complete but the treaty was not yet signed.

“We are sensitive to the unfortunate perception by many leaders that the region’s security is threatened by China’s presence in the region,” the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported. opposite the parliament.

“This is complete nonsense,” he added. “I find it very offensive … to be branded incapable of administering our sovereign affairs.”

A document leaked last week suggests China could increase its military presence in the Solomon Islands, including through visits by warships. Sogavare said the leaked document was a draft. He did not want to reveal details of the final document.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping meets Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, Oct. 9, 2019.

Xinhua/Yao Dawei/Getty


The US State Department expressed concern, saying it did not believe China’s security forces and methods needed to be exported.

Australian and New Zealand prime ministers on Monday expressed concern over the possibility of a Chinese military presence in the Solomon Islands.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison discussed the potential deal with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and his counterparts in Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

“The reports we have seen come as no surprise to us and remind us of the constant pressures and threats that exist in our region to our own national security,” Morrison said. “This is a worrying issue for the region, but it comes as no surprise. We have long been aware of this pressure.”

Ardern described the possibility of Chinese forces being stationed in the Solomon Islands as “serious concern”.

“We see such acts as a potential militarization of the region,” she said. “We see very little reason for such a need and presence in terms of Pacific security,” she added.

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The Solomon Islands are seen northeast of Australia on this map of Oceania.

Getty/iStockphoto


Ardern urged Solomon Islands leaders “not to look beyond our own Pacific family” when it comes to the country’s security ties.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed these concerns, saying, “The China-Solomon Islands cooperation has been warmly welcomed by the Solomon Islands government and people.”

“No attempt to disrupt and undermine the mutually beneficial cooperation between China and the Pacific island nations will succeed,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing on Monday.

Under the terms of the draft deal, China could send police, military personnel and other armed forces to the Solomon Islands “to help maintain social order” and for a variety of other reasons. It could also send ships to the islands for stopovers and to replenish supplies.

The draft agreement requires China to sign off on any information released about joint security arrangements, including at media briefings.

The Solomon Islands, home to about 700,000 people, switched diplomatic affiliation from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, contributing to unrest in November.

Australian police have since been in the capital, Honiara, to keep the peace under a 2017 bilateral security deal. It provides a legal basis for the rapid deployment of Australian police, troops and associated civilians in the event of a major security challenge.

When Australian police and troops left the Solomon Islands in 2017 after 14 years, the two countries signed a bilateral treaty that would allow Australians to return at short notice at the invitation of the Solomon Islands Prime Minister. That contract was enforced in November and Australian police were on the air within hours of Sogavare appealing for help.

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A handout photo taken on Nov. 25, 2021 shows Australian Federal Police special forces preparing to leave Canberra for the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara.

JACQUELINE FORRESTER/AUSTRALIA DEFENSE FORCE/AFP/Getty


Australia had led a force of Pacific Island police and troops as part of the Regional Assistance Mission in the Solomon Islands from 2003 to 2017. It included 2,300 police officers and troops from 17 nations invited by the Solomon Islands government. The operation successfully ended the conflict in which 200 people lost their lives.

Solomon Islands opposition leader Matthew Wale said he warned Australian High Commissioner Lachlan Strahan last August that the government was negotiating a security deal with Beijing that could lead to the establishment of Chinese bases there.

“Personally, I am very disappointed in Australia on this matter,” Wale said. “I think Australia saw this coming and if it didn’t, it should have.”

Morrison said Australia is rebalancing its foreign aid to focus on the Pacific.

“We were aware of the risks across the Pacific,” Morrison said, referring to Chinese involvement.

In 2018, Australian Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, then Secretary of State for International Development and the Pacific, said Chinese aid programs in poor Pacific island nations are creating “white elephants” that threaten economic stability without bringing benefits. Beijing protested their criticism.

The Pacific’s traditional aid partners — the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand — have stepped up efforts to offer alternatives to China’s Belt and Road infrastructure partnerships.

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