Solomon Islands denies policing deal with China poses ‘threat’ to Pacific security

0
662

Solomon Islands has said that its policing pact with China poses no “threat” to the Pacific, rebuking western powers that raised fears the deal could inflame regional tensions.

Prime minister Manasseh Sogavare inked a raft of deals during a trip to China this week, including an agreement allowing Beijing to extend its police presence in the developing Pacific nation until 2025.

The U.S, Australia and New Zealand have expressed unease about the policing “implementation plan”, urging Beijing to soothe concerns by releasing more details.

In response, the Solomon Islands government on Friday declared that critics should “respect our sovereignty and right to make our own decisions”.

“Solomon Islands Government fails to see how the improvement of (Royal Solomon Islands Police Force) traffic control and management system in Honiara, provision of police equipment or the completion of the Forensic Autopsy Lab is a threat to the Pacific region peace and security,” it said.

A spokesperson for Sogavare said the pact would plug security gaps exposed by violent anti-government riots in November 2021, which destroyed large sections of the Chinatown district in the capital Honiara.

The pact will cover areas such as drone training, cybersecurity and the provision of vehicles and equipment, the spokesperson added, saying the government failed to see how this was a “threat to the Pacific region”.

“We have suffered enough because of these security gaps,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The 2021 riots were partly fuelled by anger over China’s growing sway in the Solomons, which in 2019 severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of Beijing.

Australia’s foreign minister, Penny Wong, said she had raised her “clear views on security in the Pacific” with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi, whom she met on the sidelines of an Asean summit.

A spokesperson for the U.S embassy in neighbouring Papua New Guinea said there were concerns about the expansion of China’s “internal security and surveillance apparatus beyond its own borders”.

The U.S last week said it was planning a massive increase in diplomatic personnel and spending for facilities at new US embassies in the Pacific islands.

In a notice sent to Congress, the state department said it envisioned hiring up to 40 staffers over the next five years for each of four recently opened or soon-to-be-opened embassies in the Pacific.

Those include an embassy in Honiara, Solomon Islands, that opened in January; an embassy in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, that opened in May and planned embassies in Port Vila, Vanuatu, and in Tarawa, Kiribati. Currently there are only two temporary American staffers each in Honiara and Nuku’alofa.

Sogavare, who has repeatedly stressed his country is “friends to all”, raised eyebrows when he arrived in Beijing last week and told Chinese officials “I am back home”.

Solomon Islands sits at the centre of an escalating tug-of-war as China vies for regional influence with Australia and the United States.

Australia’s own longstanding security pact with the Solomons was recently put under review, stoking fears the island nation was drifting closer to China’s orbit.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN/AFP/AP/PACNEWS