Solomon Islands PM says security pact with China will not undermine regional peace

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(L-R) Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 9, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

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SYDNEY, April 20 (Reuters) – Solomon Islands’ decision to sign a security pact with China will not harm or undermine peace and harmony in the region, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told parliament on Wednesday.

Sogavare confirmed that the pact was signed by the two countries’ foreign ministers, a day after China announced the signing during a regular press briefing in Beijing.

The move, days before the arrival in Honiara of a White House delegation, including Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell, heightened concerns in Canberra about the possibility of a Chinese military presence unless of 2000 kilometres. Read more

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New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said on Wednesday that New Zealand had made clear to the Solomon Islands and China its serious concerns about the pact’s potential to destabilize the Pacific region.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said the Solomon Islands is breaching an agreement within the main regional grouping, the Pacific Islands Forum, for nations to discuss defense issues with the group before making major decisions.

“We are concerned about the militarization of the Pacific and we continue to call on the Solomons to work with the Pacific on any concerns about their security,” Ardern told New Zealand media Stuff.co.nz.

Campbell met with Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama in Suva on Wednesday to discuss regional security, the US embassy said, and will also visit Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

The United States, Japan, New Zealand and Australia have shared concerns about the Solomon Islands’ security pact with China “and its grave risks to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the House said. Blanche earlier in a statement, after officials met in Honolulu. Read more

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

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

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

A leaked plan included provisions for Chinese police to maintain social order and Chinese navy ships to refuel 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 allowed infrastructure to be protected, after riots in November saw buildings burned and lives lost. lost.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in the midst of the national election campaign, has been criticized by the opposition Labor Party for what they call the biggest diplomatic failure in the Pacific since World War II.

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

Morrison said on Wednesday Australia had made its position clear to Sogavare but had not sent the foreign secretary because it did not want to tell the Pacific islands what to do.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, head of Morrison’s junior coalition partner, warned that China could use the security deal to push for a military base. “We don’t want our own little Cuba off our coast,” Joyce said.

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

Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja, had met with Sogavare last week to urge him not to sign the China pact, and in a joint statement on Tuesday evening he said Australia was ” deeply disappointed.”

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Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney and Lucy Craymer in Wellington; Editing by Tom Hogue and Gerry Doyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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