The Solomon Islands envoy to Australia has said Chinese police dispatched there will be under the jurisdiction of the local force and unable to use the heavy-handed tactics seen in cities like Hong Kong.
“We will make sure that things happening in other countries like Hong Kong doesn’t happen in our own country,” Robert Sisilo, Solomon Islands High Commissioner to Australia, told ABC radio on Monday.
Sisilo’s comments follow concerns about China’s growing influence in the Solomon Islands, a Pacific island nation of 700,000, after the two countries signed a security pact last month. Under the terms of the agreement, China can send armed police there to help preserve “social order”.
Sisilo said that as soon as Chinese police arrive in the Solomon Islands, they will be under local command.
The agreement is not unlike one shared between Australia and the Solomon Islands. During riots in the Solomon Islands in late November, Canberra sent more than 70 security personnel at the request of the islands’ government.
“Our prime minister has been saying we are trying to diversify our sources of assistance and in this case, we are looking to China to provide that kind of support, just like Australia and other countries provide the same level of support,” Sisilo said during the interview.
Both Australia and the United States are concerned that the new pact could give China a military base in the Pacific.
The “broad nature of the security agreement leaves open the door for the deployment of PRC [People’s Republic of China] military forces to the Solomon Islands,” the US State Department said after news of the security pact emerged.
In Australia, the deal has triggered soul searching over its relationship with the island nation and other Pacific countries that are also being pursued by China.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has repeatedly denied that China will be able to build a base, while Sisilo told ABC that his government is “on guard” for development deals that could give China control over major infrastructure projects.
Countries like the Solomon Islands may be keen to avoid the mistakes of Sri Lanka, which was forced to turn over its port infrastructure to China in 2017 when it defaulted on a massive loan.