Pacific to discuss Solomons-China tie-up


New Zealand expects the Solomon Islands security tie-up with China to be the subject of a special Pacific Islands Forum meeting.

Regional security and the potential militarisation of the Pacific has caused a blue continent blow-up over the past week.

Australia and New Zealand were in one corner, attempting to talk the Solomon Islands and China out of a potential security deal.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern echoed Australian government sentiment, saying she held “grave concerns” over the draft pact, which many believed would lead to an increased military presence in the region.

In a rare, if tacit, rebuke of China, Ardern urged Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to look towards the Pacific family for the Solomon Islands’ regional security.

The trans-Tasman direct diplomacy drew a harsh rebuke from Sogavare, who told parliament his government was “very insulted” to be “branded as unfit to manage our sovereign affairs, or have other motives than pursuing our national interests”.

China also hit out at Australian and New Zealand diplomacy before “initialling” a draft deal which he insists will not lead to a military base.

Ardern said she didn’t see the episode as a failure of trans-Tasman diplomacy.

“The simple message that we’ve shared is that we have stood alongside the Solomons and will continue to do so to help support them and their security needs,” she said.

“All that we are asking is that the Solomons give consideration to a Pacific response to these issues and engage with the Pacific, particularly through the Pacific Islands Forum.”

Ardern said she had not spoken to Sogavare since December but had “no hesitation engaging directly”

“I know he’s also received similar conversations from other Pacific Island leaders,” she said.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape told the ABC he has had conversations with Sogavare in recent days, receiving assurances it would not lead to a Chinese military base.

“It’s just an understanding with police, capacity building with police,” Marape said of the tie-up.

Marape confirmed NZ Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s call for regional attention on the matter.

“We are expecting a Pacific Islands Forum meeting not just on this matter, but other matters as concerns our Forum,” he said.

Former NZ Foreign Minister Winston Peters said increased Kiwi diplomacy was vital – and should come alongside an increased American engagement.

“We are part of the blue continent. Our Pacific neighbourhood is very important to us, very important to Australia, very important to all countries that believe in the rule of law and democracy itself,” he told AAP.

“The intensity of initiatives has to be maintained on a weekly basis. This is not something you can sit aside and and diarise for some future conversation.

“(U.S engagement) is belated. There’s a cost for acting late but hopefully not too late.

“We still have from the United States a Eurocentric approach. We need to change that. I hope they’ve got it.”

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee agreed, saying there had been a “very big shift” in Pacific geopolitics.

“The question needs to be asked as to why the relationship between Australia, New Zealand and the Solomons has broken down to a point where this was apparently a surprise,” he said.

“The United States has talked about re-engaging in the Pacific. I don’t know what their programme for re-engagement is. It’s not clear.

“We spend a lot of money in the Pacific annually, around about $750 million (US$520 million) or thereabouts. Australia spends about 1.2 billion (US$908 million).

“So what’s the gap and why is it that China is able to fill it and we are not?,” he said.