The Solomon Islands on Friday defended plans to sign a security deal with Beijing that could allow China to boost its military presence in the South Pacific island nation. A document, leaked on social media, revealed details of the pact, raising alarm bells in Australia, amid concerns China could try to establish a military base on the islands.
The document says the Solomon Islands may “request China to send police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces.” It said Beijing could also send ships for stopovers and to replenish supplies. The draft also allows China to have the final say on any public information released about the new pact. The leak is believed to be part of wider security arrangements after the Solomons on Thursday agreed on a policing cooperation pact with China following anti-government protests in November that turned into riots. A Solomon Islands official told Reuters news agency that the agreement would be sent to the cabinet for consideration.
Australia and New Zealand have for decades seen the Pacific islands as their “backyard” and any security pact with Beijing is a threat to their position in the region. Washington and Canberra have long been concerned about the potential for China to build a naval base in the South Pacific, allowing its navy to project power far beyond East Asia. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia and New Zealand were part of the “Pacific family” and had a history of providing security support and responding to crises. “There are others who may seek to pretend to influence and may seek to get some sort of hold in the region and we are very conscious of that,” he told reporters. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told ABC Radio the proposed pact was “one of the most significant security developments that we have seen in decades and it’s one that is adverse to Australia’s national security interests.” Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said any move to establish a Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands would be concerning. “We want peace and stability in the region. We don’t want unsettling influences and we don’t want pressure and coercion that we are seeing from China,” Dutton told Channel Nine TV. New Zealand said Friday it would raise the issue with both the Solomon Islands and China. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Friday called on relevant parties to look at the security pact “objectively and calmly and not over-interpret it.”
About the security arrangement with Beijing, the Solomon Islands government said in a statement it was “diversifying the country’s security partnership including with China.” It added that “broadening partnerships is needed to improve the quality of lives of our people and address soft and hard security threats facing the country.” The government said the security arrangement with Australia, signed in 2017, would be unaffected.
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