Australian officials are alarmed by the Solomon Islands’ planned security deal with China with Defense Minister Peter Dutton saying ‘we would be clearly concerned about establishing any military bases’ within 2,000 km from the coast.
The Solomon Islands has signed a police agreement with China and will send a proposed broader security agreement covering the military to its cabinet for consideration.
According to a copy of the draft security agreement circulating on social media on Thursday, it would allow China to base navy warships in the Pacific.
The arrangements are also likely to worry the United States, which announced in February that it would open an embassy in the Solomon Islands after senior US administration officials expressed concern about China’s willingness to create military relations in the Pacific Islands.
The Solomon Islands moved diplomatic relations from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, which partly fueled discontent that led to riots in the capital, Honiara, in November.
Australia has consistently provided security support to the Solomon Islands and led a police mission to restore order following riots at the request of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
Australian Home Secretary Karen Andrews told reporters on Thursday that the Pacific was Australia’s “backyard” when asked about the possibility of the Chinese military operating in the Solomon Islands.
“Compared to China, compared to the Pacific region, it’s our backyard, it’s our neighborhood, and we’re very concerned about any activity that’s going on in the Pacific islands,” he said. she declared.
On Friday, Australia’s Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles told Channel Nine the draft deal was “really concerning”.
Marles called on the government to do “everything” to support the Pacific “to ensure that ultimately Australia is the natural security partner of choice”.
Dutton dismissed any suggestion that the Australian government had dropped the ball in the Pacific, arguing that it had a “fantastic relationship” with the Solomon Islands and said that despite overall cuts in foreign aid, the share going in the Pacific had increased.
“We would clearly be concerned about the establishment of any military bases and we would raise this with the Solomon Islands government,” he said.
Dutton warned Pacific nations to be “realistic about China’s footprint, effort, pressure and how it conducts business.”
“I don’t think it’s consistent with the values we share with the Solomon Islands and with Tonga and others…our close neighbors in the region.”
Karen Galokale, permanent secretary of the Solomon Islands’ Ministry of Police, National Security and Correctional Services, told Reuters that a cooperation agreement signed between the Solomon Islands and China covered the police. She confirmed that a broader deal was being discussed.
“Any other broader security agreement would be identical to the Australian agreement,” she said in a phone interview, giving the first public confirmation of the broader security talks. “He will have to go to Cabinet.”
Australia has a bilateral security agreement with the Solomon Islands, covering the deployment of police and armed forces, signed in 2018.
Solomon Islands police minister Anthony Veke said in a statement on Thursday that he had signed a memorandum of understanding with Wang Xiaohong, executive vice minister of China’s Ministry of Public Security, on police cooperation during a virtual meeting on March 18.
“Signing this MoU just shows the global community that we are building meaningful cooperation here, based on teamwork and seriousness to develop the Solomon Islands,” Veke said.
Galokale also attended the virtual meeting.
A draft security memorandum of understanding circulated on social media says it would cover Chinese police, armed police and the military assisting the Solomon Islands with social order, disaster response and to protect the security of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands.
Galokale said she was aware of the reports on social media and would not speculate on the timing of the approval process for a security cooperation agreement with China.
“We have an extensive security treaty with Australia and police cooperation. If there is something with the PRC, it will be the same,” she said, referring to China.
On Tuesday, the Royal Solomon Islands Police posted on its website photographs of police training with replica weapons supplied by China.
In November, around 200 police and soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea arrived in Honiara days after the riots to help restore order.
Galokale said the police agreement with China was the same as agreements the Solomon Islands already had with countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.