Solomon Islands’ decision to sign a security pact with China will not hurt or undermine peace and harmony in the region, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has told parliament Wednesday.
Sogavare confirmed the pact had been signed by foreign ministers from the two countries, a day after China announced the signing at a regular news briefing in Beijing.
The move, days before a White House delegation is to arrive in Honiara, has heightened concerns in the United States and Australia about the potential for a Chinese military presence less than 2,000 kilometres from Australia.
In parliament, Sogavare asked friends, partners and neighbours to respect the country’s sovereign interests.
“I ask all our neighbours, friends and partners to respect the sovereign interests of the Solomon Islands on the assurance that the decision will not adversely impact or undermine the peace and harmony of our region,” Sogavare said.
He added the security cooperation with China was not directed at any countries or external alliances, “rather at our own internal security situation”.
Solomon Islands lawmakers urged Sogavare to publicly disclose the terms of the security pact.
The Solomon Islands will “beef up” its police capacity so its own force can deal with incidents such as the November riots that saw buildings torched and lives lost, he said.
“Let me assure the people of the Solomon Islands that we entered into an arrangement with China with our eyes wide open guided by our national interests,” Sogavare said.
The United States, Japan, New Zealand and Australia are concerned about the pact, the White House said in a statement later on Tuesday.
“Officials from the four countries represented also shared concerns about a proposed security framework between the Solomon Islands and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its serious risks to a free and open Indo-Pacific,2 National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.
Australian Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong has criticised the Morrison government’s actions in the Solomon Islands as “too little too late” – a day after the nation signed a security pact with China.
“Whether it’s Morrison going missing, or Marise Payne being passive, someone in government needed to take responsibility,” Wong said.
“Because this goes directly to Australia’s national security. This was a time where Australians needed the Prime Minister not to go missing yet again.
“We are whom the Pacific turns to in times of challenge, in times of need,” said Wong.
Meanwhile, a senior Solomon Islands MP has warned that the controversial security agreement with China could result in action among local opponents to the deal.
The government in Honiara signed a controversial security agreement with China despite concern from local political figures, as well as Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
There are regional concerns the deal could open the door for Beijing to base its military in Honiara, but Prime Minister Manasseh Sovagare said that’s not the purpose of the security pact.
But Solomon Islands’ parliamentarian and chairman of the foreign relations committee Peter Kenilorea Jr said Sogavare’s decision to seal the deal – despite significant opposition – could lead to domestic ramifications.
He said certain sections of the nation’s population have been strongly against China since the diplomatic switch from Taiwan in 2019.
Kenilorea said some people will not take this lightly and it is going to cause further tensions that are already at play locally.
“It will just further inflame emotions and tensions. And again underscores the mistrust that people have on the government.
“And it is cause for concern for many Solomon Islanders, but definitely a certain segment of the society will now feel even more concerned and might want to start to take certain action which is not in the best interest of Solomon Islands in our own unity as a country,” he said.
Kenilorea said the government needs to make the security document signed with China available to the public.
The member for East Are Are said the Beijing-Honiara pact is not only a sovereign issue when it comes to security and geopolitics in the region.
He said the deal Sogavare has struck with China is a regional concern and countries in the region will continue to have a say on it.
Kenilorea said the signed copy of the agreement must be made available to know the details of what it contains and the implications it will have for the Pacific.
“It is that important that it should be made public. We have a security treaty with Australia, and that can be accessed online.
“So why couldn’t this be and I will be calling for that signed copy to be made available so that all Solomon Islanders as well as a region can see what is in there,” he said.
SOURCE: REUTERS/SKY NEWS/RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS