Friday, May 20

Solomon Islands PM says security pact with China won’t undermine regional peace


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SYDNEY — Solomon Islands’ decision to sign a security pact with China will not hurt or undermine peace and harmony in the region, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told parliament on Wednesday.

Sogavare confirmed the pact had been signed by foreign ministers from the two countries, a day after China announced the signing at a regular news briefing in Beijing.

The move, days before a White House delegation, including Indo Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell, is to arrive in Honiara, has heightened concerns in Canberra about the potential for a Chinese military presence less than 2,000 kilometers away.

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The United States, Japan, New Zealand and Australia shared concerns about the security pact “and its serious risks to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the White House said in a statement, after officials from those nations met with Campbell in Honolulu.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Wednesday “this has not been agreed in an open and transparent way.”

Solomon Islands lawmakers urged Sogavare to publicly disclose the terms of the security pact.

Sogavare said the pact would be disclosed after a “process,” adding the security cooperation with China was not directed at any countries or external alliances, “rather at our own internal security situation.”

“I ask all our neighbors, friends and partners to respect the sovereign interests of the Solomon Islands on the assurance that the decision will not adversely impact or undermine the peace and harmony of our region,” he said.

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An leaked draft included provisions for Chinese naval vessels to replenish in the Solomon Islands, alarming Australia.

Sogavare told parliament a day earlier the pact would not allow a Chinese military base, and said on Wednesday the security pact allows for the protection of infrastructure, after riots in November saw buildings torched and lives lost.

“Let me assure the people of the Solomon Islands that we entered into an arrangement with China with our eyes wide open guided by our national interests,” he said.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in the middle of a national campaign election, has been criticized by the opposition Labor party over what they call the largest diplomatic failure in the Pacific since World War 2.

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Opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese said that it was clear “relationships have broken down” between Australia and Sogavare, and that the Morrison government should have been engaging more deeply for longer.

Australia has traditionally provided policing support to Honiara, a Pacific island neighbor, under a bilateral security treaty signed in 2017, and an earlier regional policing mission.

Payne said that the Labor criticism did not recognize the Solomon Islands had made a sovereign decision, and that Australia’s Minister for International Development and Pacific Zed Seselja had met with Sogavare last week to urge him not to sign the pact with China.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Tom Hogue and Gerry Doyle)

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financialpost.com