31 Mar 2022

Solomons' leader confirms security pact with China

9:45 am on 31 March 2022

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Mannaseh Sogavare has confirmed his government has finalised a security treaty with China.

Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare (right) with Li Ming, China's first ambassador to the Solomon Islands.

Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare (right) with Li Ming, China's first ambassador to the Solomon Islands. Photo: George Herming - Government Communications Unit

A draft security cooperation agreement was leaked on Friday and it could allow China to deploy police and military personnel in Solomon Islands.

The document lays down a framework which could permit Beijing to deploy forces to protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in Solomon Islands.

Speaking to the parliament yesterday, Sogavare was critical of media reporting around the leak.

But in responding to a question about how far along negotiations on the treaty were, Sogavare, said the document was already finalised.

"Mr Speaker I was just replying to the leader of opposition who has asked how far have we got in terms of finalising these things. We have already finalised it. The document is ready for signing. Thank you Mr Speaker," Sogavare said.

He brushed off accusations that the security treaty would diminish the role of its traditional security partners in the region but has so far failed to go into any detail about its content.

An opposition figure in Solomon Islands said the regional outrage concerning the leaked security pact between Beijing and Honiara is not an "overreaction".

Foreign Relations Committee chairperson and MP for East Are Are Peter Kenilorea Jr said any security co-operation with a country that had no such arrangements in the Pacific would cause an "uproar."

Peter Kenilorea Junior (centre)

Peter Kenilorea Junior (centre) Photo: twitter / @kenilorea

Kenilorea said there were "very strong feelings" on the ground on who should or should not be Solomon Islands' security partner of choice.

Certain segments of Solomon Islands were very much against the Chinese Communist Party - particularly Malaita Province - which had documented it did not want anything to do with the CCP, he said.

Meanwhile, Transparency Solomon Islands said the government's move to sign a security memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China was just another item added to a long list of controversial policy decisions it has made in recent years.

Transparency's chief executive in Honiara Ruth Liloqula said locally there had been no consultation around the move and people are anxious about government intentions.

She said a controversial security MOU being brokered is yet another sign of a leadership crisis in the country.

Ruth Liloqula

Ruth Liloqula Photo: RNZ Pacific/koro Vaka'uta

Liloqula also said those blaming Solomon Islands' actions on a lack of input from Australia and New Zealand in regional security were missing the mark.

"I don't think that is the case. That is the easiest excuse to bring in. What we are seeing here is a leadership crisis inside our country and those they are surrounding themselves with, to look at the bigger picture," she said.

Sogavare brushed off concerns that a new China-Solomon Islands security treaty would diminish the role of its traditional security partners in the region.

He said his country's relationship with allies in Australia and New Zealand would "always remain important."

But Solomon Islands found it insulting to be branded as unfit to manage its sovereign affair, he said.

"In this context, Solomon Islands will seek partnerships with friendly foreign governments. This is part of the vision of the national security strategy especially in maintaining our security needs.

"The country's security needs are informed by its national interest to "provide a safe, secure nation" for all its citizens."

The permanent secretary of Solomon Islands Ministery of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Colin Beck, says the security agreement is in response to chronic law and order problems.

Beck said while Solomon Islands valued the support of Australia and New Zealand it clearly needs all the help it can get.

"We really need new solutions ..(and we will continue)... to work with everyone while dealing with it domestically but where the partnerships can come in we will continue to call on those partnerships. Our interest is also to strengthen our national police force so that we do not need and we should never trigger any of these security arrangements."

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