Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has said that foreign military installations will never be established in his country, an apparent reference to a security pact he signed with China earlier this year.
Sogavare made his comments during a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Canberra on Thursday, the state-run Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) reported.
“Solomon Islands will not do anything that will undermine its own national security and jeopardise the security of any or all (Pacific Island) Forum countries,” Sogavare said, according to an SIBC report on Friday.
“Solomon Islands will never be used for foreign military installations or institutions of foreign countries,” the prime minister said.
“About China, this is a sensitive issue we discussed and I assured Australia when I met with Anthony Albanese yesterday that we will not allow such to happen,” Sogavare said in a written reply to questions sent by the AFP news agency.
Previously, Sogavare had said that China would be permitted to build wharves and airports, which could be useful for civilian and military purposes.
Australia, the United States and New Zealand had expressed growing concern that the security pact would lead to China setting up a military outpost on their doorstep in the Pacific region.
Tensions between Honiara and Canberra increased more recently when Sogavare blasted an offer from Australia to fund the Solomons’ next election. Australia offered to fund the election to prevent a delay in voting, which Sogavare said would be necessary as the country was unable to fund the Pacific Games and an election in the same year.
Sogavare blasted Canberra’s offer as interference, but then later accepted it.
‘Friends to all and enemies to none’
In a joint statement issued by Albanese’s office after their meeting on Thursday, the leaders said they had discussed bilateral ties, the climate crisis, and “shared aspirations for a peaceful, prosperous and resilient Pacific”.
Sogavare’s visit to Australia also follows shortly after US President Joe Biden and 14 Pacific island states issued a joint declaration to strengthen their partnership amid Washington’s offer of hundreds of millions in new aid for the region.
The declaration was announced following a high-profile two-day summit in Washington between the US and Pacific island leaders that analysts said was an attempt by the US to stem China’s growing influence among the island nations.
This week, the Solomons’ foreign minister, Jeremiah Manele, said he had not been “comfortable” with indirect references to China in a draft of the US-Pacific partnership declaration.
The Solomon Islands endorsed the document after earlier indicating it would not sign the declaration.
Sogavare told the United Nations in September that his country had been “vilified” for its relationship with Beijing.
The SIBC report on Friday noted that the premier said his national development plan for the Solomon Islands was based on a “foreign policy of ‘friends to all and enemies to none'”.