China and the Solomon Islands have signed a draft version of a security pact that could see Chinese police and other forces take up duties in the Pacific Island nation, drawing concerns from traditional partners New Zealand, Australia and the United States.
The Solomon Islands government on March 31 said the draft agreement had been initialled by the representatives of the two sides and will now “be cleaned up and await signatures of the two countries' Foreign Ministers.”
The agreement aims to “respond to Solomon Islands’ soft and hard domestic threats. Solomon Islands will continue to roll out the implementation of its national security strategy and uphold its foreign policy of ‘Friends to all and enemies to none,’” a government news release said.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on Tuesday rejected concerns that regional safety would be jeopardised by the treaty. Mr. Sogavare called such concerns "utter nonsense,” adding that “I find it very insulting ... to be branded as unfit to manage our sovereign affairs.” China has likewise dismissed questions about the agreement.
In its statement, the Solomon Islands said it would continue to “work with all partners in providing a safe and secure nation where all people are able to co-exist peacefully." It thanked Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Fiji for committing personnel to safeguard security on the islands.
Under the terms of the draft agreement, China could send police, military personnel and other armed forces to the Solomon Islands “to assist in maintaining social order” and for a variety of other reasons. It could also send warships to the islands for stopovers and to replenish supplies, leading to speculation about the possibility of China establishing a naval base on the islands.
Deepening concerns, the draft agreement stipulates that China would need to sign off on any information that is released about joint security arrangements, including at media briefings.
The Solomon Islands, home to about 7,00,000 people, switched its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019 — a contributing factor to riots in November last year between residents of different islands within the country.
Australian police have been in the capital, Honiara, maintaining peace since then under a bilateral security treaty established in 2017. It provides a legal basis for the rapid deployment of Australian police, troops and associated civilians in the event of a major security challenge.
Chinese police are already on the islands conducting a training mission. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the possibility of Chinese military forces stationed on the Solomon Islands as “the potential militarisation of the region.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said reports of the pact were “a reminder of the constant pressure and threats that present in our region to our own national security."
The U.S. State Department said Washington did not believe China’s security forces and methods needed to be exported. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Thursday that “relevant parties should see the China-Solomon Islands security cooperation objectively and rationally and stop making irresponsible remarks.”
“Attempts to provoke, obstruct and undermine China’s friendly relations with the island countries is not popular and will not succeed,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing.
“China-Solomon Islands cooperation does not target any third party and is not in conflict with Solomon Islands’ cooperation with other countries. Instead, it complements the existing regional cooperation mechanisms in a positive way,” he added.