Solomon Islands defends plans to expand security ties with China, as Canberra, Wellington express concern

The government of Solomon Islands is standing by a controversial draft agreement which Australian officials fear could pave the way to a Chinese military presence in the Pacific Island nation, declaring it has to “broaden” its security ties.

Key points:

  • The Solomon Islands government has issued a statement defending its push to expand security ties with Beijing
  • Its statement did not say whether a document leaked on social media on Thursday remains current
  • However, it says, the government is “expanding the country’s security arrangement with more countries”

The draft agreement — which was leaked on social media yesterday – seems to provide a framework for Chinese troops and military assets to be deployed to Solomon Islands, and has drawn criticism from the Solomon Islands opposition.

However, in a statement issued late on Friday, the Solomon Islands government issued a lengthy defence of its push to expand security ties with Beijing.

“The government recognises the state’s responsibility of protecting its people from fear and to live in dignity,” it says.

“Broadening partnerships is needed to improve the quality of lives of our people and [to] address soft and hard security threats facing the country.”

The statement does not say whether the leaked document is the latest version or whether it will be presented to Solomon Islands cabinet in its current form.


Chinese military presence for Solomon Islands

Australia has been increasingly uneasy about the growing security cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands
Foreign Ministers of Solomon Islands and China at joint press conference in September, 2019.
Read more](Leaked documents suggest plans for Chinese military presence in Solomon Islands - ABC News)

It also said the government was “expanding the country’s security arrangement with more countries” and suggested there was a strong “development” imperative driving the arrangement.

“The proposed security arrangements have a development dimension to [them], covering humanitarian needs of the country besides maintaining the rule of law,” the statement says.

But it does not explain how the proposed agreement will boost development or lift living standards in the country.

Australia and New Zealand have already expressed alarm about the draft document.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not directly criticise Solomon Islands for pursuing the agreement but said the episode highlighted “the constant pressure and the constant push that is coming into the region from interests that are not aligned with Australia’s and not aligned with those of the Pacific”.

He also denied that the government was blind-sided by the document, although he did not say when Australian officials became aware of the China-Solomon Islands talks.

Australia’s Minister for the Pacific, Zed Seselja, was more forceful than the Prime Minister, saying Australia did not want to see an authoritarian regime coming into the Pacific’s “security environment” and predicted significant pushback from other Pacific Island nations.

“If you look at some of the security challenges we have responded [to], as a Pacific family, and we don’t see a role for an authoritarian regime to be obviously coming [into the] security environment into the region,” Senator Seselja told the ABC.


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Xiao Qian sits at a desk in front of a Chinese flag.
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The minister indicated he had already begun lobbying other Pacific Island states to register their concerns with Solomon Islands over the deal.

He said Australia’s High Commissioner, Lachlan Strahan, had also directly registered Australia’s concerns with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

“It is a draft agreement, so there will obviously be discussions taking place between our government and Solomon Islands government and [our] Pacific counterparts,” he said.

"The Pacific family comes together in these circumstances. We work well together, and we don’t see need in the security environment to go beyond that [region].

“It does potentially have implications and we will see, I think, significant pushback in the region.”

In a formal statement issued late on Friday, Senator Seselja and Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia “respected the right of every Pacific country to make sovereign decisions” but reiterated deep-seated concerns with the proposal.

“We have regularly and respectfully raised our concerns with the Solomon Islands Government and will continue to do so,” the statement reads.

“We would be particularly concerned by any actions that undermine the stability and security of our region, including the establishment of a permanent presence such as a military base.”

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, said her country’s High Commissioner in Honiara would raise concerns with both Solomon Islands and China.

“Such agreements will always be the right of any sovereign country to enter into, however developments within this purported agreement could destabilise the current institutions and arrangements that have long underpinned the Pacific region’s security,” she said in a statement.

“This would not benefit New Zealand [nor] our Pacific neighbours.”

The Chinese (along with the Russians) deploying asymmetric geopolitics ! The Americans will get stretched trying to contain them on so many fronts.