Solomon Islands MPs demand answers over ‘replica’ guns from China

Opposition leader Matthew Wale accuses police commissioner of misleading citizens after Al Jazeera report.

Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands has deepened its ties with China in recent years [File: Florence Lo/Reuters]

Taipei, Taiwan – Solomon Islands’ opposition leader Matthew Wale has called on the country’s police commissioner to “come clean” about whether China secretly shipped genuine firearms to Honiara last year after Al Jazeera uncovered new details about the shipment.

Last week, Al Jazeera revealed that at the time of the shipment in March 2022, United States diplomats believed the firearms were in fact real pistols and rifles and not “replicas” intended for training purposes as claimed by the government.

“The weapons in the photo were packed in wooden crates, appeared real, and had unique serial numbers,” the US embassy in Papua New Guinea said in a diplomatic cable obtained by Al Jazeera via a freedom of information request.

US officials also believed that replica firearms later displayed by the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) to quell the controversy were not the same as the guns in the shipment, and questioned why the weapons had been offloaded in the middle of the night without proper documentation.

On Tuesday, Wale accused RSIPF Commissioner Mostyn Mangau and Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of deliberately misleading Solomon Islanders and acting more like a criminal organisation than a sovereign government.

“When the very institutions entrusted to protect us are implicated in such deceptive acts, it becomes clear that this Government cannot be trusted, especially on matters as critical as national security,” Wale said in a statement.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Peter Kenilorea Jr, another opposition MP, called for a commission of inquiry to get to the truth of the controversy.

Geopolitical rivalry

Solomon Islands’s political opposition has previously objected to weapons shipments from other countries including Australia, which last year donated MK18 rifles and police vehicles to the Pacific Island country.

Sogavare and the RSIPF have not publicly responded to the revelations contained in the diplomatic cables.

But Collin Beck, the head of Solomon Islands’ foreign ministry, said on Saturday that the Al Jazeera report “holds no truth” and was part of a “divisive narrative” about the country.

“Allegation of [Solomon Islands] receiving arms from [China] is not true and not helpful against today’s fast changing international system. [The Solomon Islands] will remain vigilant and resilient,” Beck wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

During his time in office, Sogavare has taken a series of steps to deepen relations with China, including signing an agreement on security cooperation and ceasing recognition of self-ruled Taiwan.

The country’s pivot towards Beijing has alarmed officials in the US, Australia and New Zealand, who fear Chinese encroachment in the Pacific.

Solomon Islands, which is home to just over 700,000 people, and other tiny Pacific Island nations have been caught in a heated rivalry among major powers due to their strategic location.

The RSIPF did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not reply to earlier questions from Al Jazeera about the allegations made by US officials.

Source: Al Jazeera