-The Australian government has called on Solomon Islands and China to “immediately” publish a new policing plan between the two countries, saying it is concerned the deal will invite “regional contest” in the Pacific.
The concern from Canberra comes on the back of Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s visit to Beijing, where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss the two countries’ new “comprehensive strategic partnership”.
It is the second time the two have met, with Sogavare travelling to China in 2019 after the Pacific Island nation cut ties with Taiwan and formally established relations with Beijing.
The relationship between the two countries has been the cause of major tension in Canberra. And it triggered more nervousness last year after China and Solomon Islands formalised a secretive security pact.
China has since established a police presence in Solomon Islands, and Monday the two countries appeared to formalise the arrangement through the signing of an “implementation plan” on policing, which will run until the end of 2025.
“The Chinese side will continue to provide support and help to Solomon Islands as needed in strengthening Solomon Islands’ police law enforcement capacity,” a joint statement said.
The details of the policing plan have not been made public.
A spokesperson for Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who is travelling to Jakarta for the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, said the Australian government was “concerned” the policing plan would “invite further regional contest”.
“Solomon Islands and China should provide transparency of their intentions to Australia and the region by publishing the agreement immediately, so the Pacific family can collectively consider the implications for our shared security,” the spokesperson said.
Massey University international security lecturer and Pacific expert Anna Powles said Australia’s call to make the “implementation plan” public was not surprising.
“It is consistent with the concerns raised when Solomon Islands signed the security deal with China in 2022,” Dr Powles said.
“There are deep concerns about how crowded and contested the security sector has become in Solomon Islands.
“[And] there is certainly concern in the Pacific that geopolitical competition has spilled over into several security sectors in the region and that this could undermine peace and security efforts.
“But it is the sovereign right of Solomon Islands to enter these agreements without consultation with other security partners.”
In a trip to Honiara last week, Defence Minister Richard Marles confirmed that Australia was pushing to keep a security presence in Solomon Islands beyond the 2023 deadline agreed by both countries last year.
Marles said he was “excited” for the chance to review the security pact and announced a AUD$25 million assistance package for Solomon Islands’ elections next year.
Speaking on Tuesday, the Solomon Islands prime minister said he and Xi engaged in the “high-level” bilateral meeting, with Sogavare calling China the country’s “special friend”
Sogavare also spoke of President Xi’s “visionary leadership [on] all issues”.
“I am here to renew my friendship and inform the President of how proud we are to see the fruits of our relations that is changing the face of my capital and my country,” Sogavare said in the statement.
“China remains Solomon Islands special friend and [we] hope we can see these relations grow deeper roots of progress, prosperity and partnership.”
In a separate meeting on Tuesday, Sogavare met with Chinese Premier Li Qiang at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People to sign a series of agreements, including a “Sports Technical Assistance Project” for this year’s Pacific Games in November.
China has paid for and largely built Solomon Islands’ new national stadium.
Li said the development of China-Solomon Islands relations over the past four years had been “very fruitful” and Solomon Islands’ decision to switch its diplomatic recognition to Beijing was “the correct choice that conforms to the trend of the times”.
Sogavare, in turn, told Li Solomon Islands “has a lot to learn from China’s development experience”.
Sogavare was expected to be in China until Saturday, also visiting the economic powerhouse provinces of Jiangsu and Guangdong.