The Solomon Islands has denied suggestions by Australia and others its policing deal with Beijing is “a threat to the Pacific region peace” and says China will enhance the capability of its 1,500 police officers in cybersecurity and community policing.
The United States, Australia, New Zealand and Solomon Islands’ opposition party have called for Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to “immediately” publish details of the policing deal signed in Beijing on Monday, amid concern it will invite further regional contest.
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In a statement on Friday, Sogavare’s office said the Pacific Islands nation was broadening its security partnerships, and Chinese police will add to the existing Australian and New Zealand policing support.
“No one has a monopoly of knowledge,” it said.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong said she had “conveyed Australia’s clear views on security in the Pacific” in a meeting with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi in Jakarta on Thursday night.
“Solomon Islands Government fails to see how the improvement of (Royal Solomon Islands Police Force) traffic control and management system in Honiara, provision of police equipment or the completion of the Forensic Autopsy Lab is a threat to the Pacific region peace and security,” said the statement from Sogavare’s office.
Riots in the capital Honiara in 2021 exposed gaps in the islands’ policing, it said.
Australian and New Zealand police deployed to the Solomon Islands in response to the unrest at Sogavare’s request, and previously led a decade-long international security force to maintain peace after the internal conflict.
In the week before his China visit, Sogavare announced Australia’s security treaty would be reviewed.
Opposition leader Matthew Wale said in a statement “policing is different in democracies than in communist countries and democracies must uphold human rights and due process”.
The issue was not China’s supply of security equipment, but the compatibility of Chinese and Pacific policing, said Meg Keen, director of the Lowy Institute’s Pacific Islands programme.
“It is critical how the equipment is used, particularly guns and water cannons,” she said.
On his visit to Beijing this week, his first since agreeing on a security pact with China last year, Sogavare promised support for China’s Global Development Initiative and Global Security Initiative policy, which pair Chinese infrastructure investment and security.
The Solomon Islands has a population of 700,000 people spread across an archipelago that occupies a strategic position in the Pacific, and was pivotal to the US move west to liberate the Philippines in World War II.
Tensions over Taiwan have raised concerns in Washington and Canberra over China’s naval ambitions in the region.
“Our fear is that in the near future, China’s interest will clash with US influence and strategic interests in the region and we are right in the middle of it all,” opposition leader Wale added.