A Former Australian high commissioner to Solomon Islands says the involvement of Chinese officials in training local police is setting off alarm bells in Canberra.
The move from Beijing follows last year’s violent riots which targeted Chinese-owned businesses in the capital, Honiara.
James Batley, who led the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and now a distinguished policy fellow at the Australian National University said Canberra is watching development closely.
“For a very long time, Australia has been a major, perhaps the major security partner for Solomon Islands and that’s going back into the 1980s, 1990s.”
Batley said China is a new player giving assistance but it’s very small scale at this stage, with only a handful of personnel.
He said Australia will be watching since China has a different tradition on policing.
Meanwhile, the head of Bougainville’s police force is calling for urgent action from the governments of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands after dozens of villagers crossed the border despite COVID-19 restrictions.
The group travelled from Solomon Islands to Bougainville to sell produce and buy food from a local market in Buin, despite a two-year long ban on border travel.
Francis Tokura who is also PNG’s Deputy Police Commissioner said he got wind of the plan and passed on information to his officers to turn the group back.
“The information got to them (border police) very late – they (the villagers) actually turned up at Kangu Beach in South Bougainville. They sold what they had with them and they had to go back,” he said.
The Deputy Commissioner said both PNG and Solomon Islands need to urgently meet and come up with a solution.
“The border is a national government responsibility – Solomon Islands and PNG side, they have to sit down decide what to do with border crossers,” he said.
The villagers made the crossing after weeks of complaints over food shortages in the Shortland Islands.
Western Province Secretary Jeffrey Wickham said more than a thousand bags of rice donated by Australia for border communities are still sitting in the provincial capital Gizo.
“We don’t have the fund to charter a boat or fuel to transport the rice,” he said.
Deputy Commissioner Tokura said although he sympathised with their plan and that there are traditional connections between communities, the laws of both countries still have to be respected.
“I feel sorry for them but we must respect the sovereignty of both Solomon Islands and PNG,” he said.