Australia on Tuesday asked the Solomon Islands and China to “provide transparency of their intentions to Australia and the region” by immediately publishing details of a policing deal signed in Beijing.
The police cooperation pact was among nine deals signed after Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare met Chinese Premier Li Qiang in Beijing.
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China has increased its police training in the Solomon Islands in recent months. The deal signed in Beijing on Monday will allow for a Chinese police presence until 2025.
Australia fears ‘further regional contest’
A spokesperson for Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia was aware of reports referencing a policing implementation plan linked to a deal signed between China and the Solomon Islands in March 2022.
“We are concerned that this development will invite further regional contest,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The Solomon Islands, about 2,000km (1,243 miles) northeast of Australia, has been China’s biggest success in a campaign to expand its presence in the South Pacific.
Sogavare’s government switched official recognition in 2019 to Beijing from Taiwan, the self-ruled island democracy claimed by the mainland’s ruling Communist Party as part of its territory.
“Solomon Islands and China should provide transparency of their intentions to Australia and the region by publishing the agreement immediately, so the Pacific family can collectively consider the implications for our shared security,” Wong said.
Last month, Sogavare called for a review of a 2017 security treaty with Australia, which has historically provided policing support to the Solomon Islands.
Australia is a significant aid donor to the Solomon Islands and has a decades-long security relationship with the nation.
Canberra deployed troops to the Solomon Islands in 2021 at Honiara’s request following anti-government protests, alongside Fiji and New Zealand’s defence personnel.
US and China wrestle for influence
The agreement is the latest chapter in a geopolitical battle between China and the United States as they seek to gain influence among the Pacific nations.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi conducted a 10-day tour of eight Pacific nations in May 2022, including Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.
The US administration has responded by announcing plans to reopen an embassy in the Solomon Islands.
US President Joe Biden also convened a summit of Pacific Island leaders in September to unveil a strategy that included climate change, maritime security and preventing overfishing. Biden promised $810m in new aid for Pacific Island nations over the next decade, including $130m to address the effects of climate change.