Saturday, 30 September 2023

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Solomons PM attacks ‘unneighbourly’ China questions

HONIARA, SOLOMON ISLANDS — Solomon Islands’ leader Manasseh Sogavare on Monday attacked foreign questions about a new police deal with China as “unneighbourly” interference.

During a 9-15 July visit to China, the prime minister signed a raft of deals including an agreement allowing Beijing to maintain a police presence in the Pacific island country 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.

“Australia and the United States should not fear China’s police support to Royal Solomons Police Force,” Sogavare told reporters after his arrival back in Honiara.

“The narrow, coercive diplomatic approach of targeting China-Solomon Islands relations is — and I want to use this word — unneighbourly,” the Solomons leader said.

“This is nothing but interference by foreign states into the internal affairs of Solomon Islands,” he added.

“China has not invaded — it has not invaded or colonised any other foreign state.”

China gave a warm welcome to the visiting Solomons leader, who severed diplomatic ties with self-ruling Taiwan in 2019 in favour of official relations with Beijing.

The Solomons were rewarded with large sums of aid and investment in the country by China.

Sogavare said some foreign donor countries had delayed assistance to the Solomons, leaving it “struggling” to finance the 2023 budget.

‘Total madness’

“I am really delighted to announce that the People’s Republic of China stepped up and committed to itself to meet this shortfall by providing the budgetary support that is needed for 2023,” he said.

The Chinese budgetary support will be provided in the form of projects, he said, without giving precise financial details.

The Solomons leader has come under criticism from his country’s opposition for signing the China policing deal and for the cost of the China visit.

Opposition leader Matthew Wale said financial documents suggested that large sums of public money had been spent by the Solomons to send a 30-strong delegation to China, including some “only travelling as tourists”.

“This is total madness,” he said in a statement.

“Just last week, teachers’ pay was delayed. Our hospitals need basic drugs like panadol, our roads are at their worst state, we have frequent power cuts, water problems, and most importantly we are at a crucial time to fix the economy of this country.”

Sogavare insisted, however, that the “bulk of the cost” of the trip was being paid for by China and by business leaders who joined the delegation.

The cost of the trip was a “drop in the ocean” compared to the benefits it reaped, he said.


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