US, Australia call for China-Solomons police pact to be made public

Stephen Wright
US, Australia call for China-Solomons police pact to be made public Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare speaks during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Li Qiang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 10, 2023.
AP/Pool Photo

The United States, Australia and the Solomon Islands opposition leader have called for China and the Solomon Islands government to make public a police cooperation agreement they signed this week, underscoring concerns the pact could undermine regional stability.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is on his second official visit to China since his government switched its diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taiwan in 2019. A police cooperation pact was among nine agreements signed by the two countries in Beijing on Monday, where Chinese leaders feted Sogavare and promised further aid to the economically-lagging island nation.

“In general, we have concerns over the expansion of [China’s] internal security and surveillance apparatus beyond its own borders,” a Papua New Guinea-based spokesman for the U.S. embassy in the Solomon Islands said Thursday.  

“We encourage the parties to release these texts immediately to increase transparency and inform discussions about the impacts of these agreements on regional security,” the spokesman said in an email to BenarNews. 

The Solomon Islands, home to about 700,000 people, has become a hotspot in the escalating China-U.S. competition for influence in the Pacific. It signed a secretive security pact with China last year, alarming the U.S. and its allies such as Australia, who see the agreement as a possible prelude to a Chinese military presence in the region.

Under Sogavare, the Solomon Islands has sought to benefit from the China-U.S. rivalry by securing more development assistance. The South Pacific country, an archipelago about 2,100 kilometers (1,300 miles) northeast of Brisbane, Australia, grapples with crumbling roads, limited telecommunications and lack of basic healthcare. 

Solomon Islands opposition leader Matthew Wale said Sogavare’s government must release all nine agreements it signed with China. 

Some ministers in Sogavare’s Cabinet had not been aware of the scope of the agreements that would be signed with China’s government, Wale said.

“Solomon Islands is on its own in the region in the speed and breath in which it is concluding these agreements,” he said in a statement. 

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong attends a meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia on July 12, 2023. [Reuters]

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Wednesday the policing agreement is consistent with international law and common practice.

Law enforcement cooperation with China has “played a positive role in promoting security and stability of the Solomon Islands,” he told a regular ministry press conference.

The competition for influence in the Solomons has increasingly spilled into domestic security, raising concerns it could cause new instability in a country that spiraled into chaos only two decades ago, culminating in an Australian-led military intervention from 2003 until 2017.

China and Australia have been training Solomon Islands police and donating equipment, including water cannons gifted by China and guns courtesy of Australia. In the past month, the Solomons has been given seven Nissan X-Trail SUVs from Australia as well as night-vision devices, drones, a wireless signal jammer and two vehicles from China.

Sogavare’s trip to China comes after Australia earlier this month offered to extend a military and police deployment in the Solomon Islands. The Pacific island country is preparing to host a regional sporting event later this year – bankrolled by China, Australia and Indonesia – and hold postponed elections in the first half of 2024. 

Australia sent more than 200 troops and police to the Solomon Islands in late 2021 at the request of Sogavare’s government following anti-China and anti-government riots in the capital Honiara.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong said there is an understanding among Pacific island nations and Australia and New Zealand that security in the region is best provided by the region itself, and managed through diplomatic organizations such as the Pacific Islands Forum.

“That matters for stability. So, Australia, like many others, would want transparency about what this agreement means and we would want it discussed at the Pacific Islands Forum,” she said at a press conference in Jakarta on Wednesday. 

The U.S. and Papua New Guinea signed a defense cooperation agreement in May that would give U.S. forces extensive use of six ports and airports in the Pacific island country. Critics of the pact said it could undermine Papua New Guinea’s sovereignty.  

The agreement has been tabled in Papua New Guinea’s parliament and would be published on the State Department’s website when it comes into force. 


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