The Solomon Islands confirmed on Friday that it is forging a partnership with China to address security threats and ensure a secure environment for investment while diversifying security relations. A security pact with the Pacific island nation would be a major breakthrough for China in a region that US allies Australia and New Zealand have considered their “backyard” for decades.
Both expressed concern about the regional security impact of military cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands after a draft document outlining the proposed cooperation was leaked this week. “Broadening partnerships is necessary to improve the quality of life of our people and address the soft and hard security threats facing the country,” the Solomon Islands government said in its first public comment on the matter.
In a statement, he said he was “diversifying the country’s security partnership, including with China” and working to sign a number of agreements with it “to further create a safe and secure environment for local and foreign investments. On Thursday, a Solomon Islands official told Reuters a security agreement with China covering the military would be sent to his cabinet for consideration. The Solomons have already signed a police agreement with China.
The arrangement would cover humanitarian needs in addition to maintaining the rule of law, Solomon Islands said, adding that it needed to rebuild its economy after recent riots and would sign an air services pact with the China and increase trade. A security agreement with Australia, signed in 2017, would be preserved as the Solomon Islands deepened its ties with China, he added.
Australian Pacific Minister Zed Seselja said Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare had been made aware of Australia’s concern over talks with China and that Canberra expected “a significant backsliding In the region”. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, commenting on the matter earlier on Friday, said Australia and New Zealand were part of the “Pacific family” and used to providing security support and responding to seizures.
“There are others who may seek to feign influence and may seek to gain a foothold in the area and we are very aware of that,” he told reporters. “DANGEROUS INFLUENCES”
Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told ABC Radio that the proposed pact was “one of the most significant security developments we have seen in decades and it is one that is contrary to the national security interests of Australia”. The Pacific island nation of less than a million people, 2,000 km (1,240 miles) northeast of Australia, shifted diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, signaling the growing influence of the China in the Pacific.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said in a statement that Pacific partners should be transparent in their actions. “Such agreements will always be the right of any sovereign country to enter into,” she said.
“However, developments within this purported agreement could destabilize the current institutions and arrangements that have long underpinned security in the Pacific region.” Australia and New Zealand have police in the Solomon Islands, part of a multinational contingent invited by Sogavare to restore order after the November riots.
The Solomon Islands resident who posted the leaked draft of the security agreement online told Reuters the document came from a police source. It covers the Chinese police and military helping with social order, disaster response, and protecting the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects.
Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said any decision to establish a Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands would be cause for concern. “We want peace and stability in the region,” Dutton told Channel Nine. “We don’t want disruptive influences and we don’t want the pressure and coercion that we see from China.”
Last month, the United States announced that it would open a US embassy in Honiara, fearing that China was seeking to strengthen its military ties there. In Beijing on Friday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called on relevant parties to review security cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands “objectively and calmly and not to overinterpret it”.
He was answering a question about the new security agreement posed during a regular press briefing. “Some politicians on the Australian side have released misconceptions about the so-called ‘Chinese coercion’ and deliberately created an atmosphere of tension, which is extremely irresponsible and does not help regional stability and development,” Ms. .Wang.
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