Sunday, 24 September 2023

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Solomon Islands says China police pact not a ‘threat’

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — The Solomon Islands said Friday that its policing pact with China posed no “threat” to the Pacific, rebuking Western powers who 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 United States, 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 declared that critics should “respect our sovereignty and right to make our own decisions”.

A spokesman 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.

It would cover areas such as drone training, cybersecurity and the provision of vehicles and equipment, the spokesman 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 spokesman 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.

Australian 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 overnight.

A spokesman for the US 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”.

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

The Solomon Islands, one of the poorest countries in the Pacific, 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.


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