Fearing the militarisation of the Pacific, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has urged the Solomon Islands to walk away from its newly inked security deal with China.
China’s foreign ministry announced on Tuesday night it had wrapped up an “inter-governmental framework agreement on security co-operation” with the Solomon Islands.
Under the deal, first leaked last month, Beijing will build police capacity and, possibly, deploy military assets in the capital Honiara, which has been the scene of unrest in recent years.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has insisted the deal will not allow China to build a military base, a key concern of Australia.
However, Ardern is still troubled by the tie-up, saying New Zealand “sees no need for this agreement”.
“We’re concerned about the militarisation of the Pacific and we continue to call on the Solomons to work with the Pacific with any concerns around their security they may have,” she said in Singapore on Wednesday.
“We must also draw clear lines where we have areas of concern. The militarisation of our region is a very clear line.
“They’ve signed that (deal) before having the chance to engage with the Pacific Islands Forum.
“Through the Pacific Islands Forum we have, in the Biketawa Declaration, an agreement that as a region we will work together first to meet our own security needs.”
The 16 members of the Pacific Islands Forum – including Australia, New Zealand and the Solomons – agreed the Biketawa Declaration in 2000 at a meeting in Kiribati.
The declaration calls for members to work as part of “the Pacific Islands extended family” during times of crisis.
Ardern said the Solomon Islands was “of course” allowed as a sovereign nation to sign the agreement, but pleaded with Sogavare for further talks.
“Those same sovereign nations within the Pacific have all been party to an agreement in the Biketawa Declaration that when it comes to our security needs, we’ll work together and raise concerns together,” she said.
“Australia and New Zealand have demonstrated our willingness to do that.
“We ask for dialogue.”
Ardern said she had made the same points to China, but at an official-to-official level rather than reaching out to President Xi Jinping.
“There are some leaders that you simply don’t drop a WhatsApp to. I would consider President Xi and President Biden to be amongst those,” she said.
There are domestic political considerations at play in the security agreement, with analysts suggesting Sogavare’s embattled leadership is behind the deal.
Sogavare, in his fourth stint as prim minister, is a divisive figure in the Solomons and has been the target of violent protests.