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29 Mar, 2022 08:34

Pacific nation defends security deal with China

The prime minister of the Solomon Islands says he is ‘insulted’ by foreign criticism of his country’s security talks with Beijing
Pacific nation defends security deal with China

The Solomon Islands’ security deal with Beijing is finalized and ready for signing, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has said. However, he has refuted speculations it was aimed at establishing a Chinese military base in his country.

“We find it very insulting to be branded as unfit to manage our sovereign affairs, or [to] have other motives in pursuing our national interests,” Sogavare told the parliament in the capital, Honiara, on Tuesday.

The draft of the agreement, leaked by the media last week, has led to criticism from Australia and New Zealand, which are concerned by China’s growing influence in the Pacific. Some outlets went so far as to suggest the deal would see Beijing establishing a military base in the country, which is located some 2,000km (1,243 miles) from Australia’s northern shores.

The Solomon Islands have “no intention … of pitching into any geopolitical power struggle,” Sogavare assured parliamentarians. As for the media’s claims of a Chinese military base, he said, they were merely “misinformation” and “nonsense.”

Beijing is not pressuring Honiara into signing the pact, he insisted, adding that “the Solomon Islands themselves requested the treaty.”

According to Sogavare, Chinese security personnel will be deployed only to protect infrastructure built by what he termed “our new friends.”

“We watched Chinatown burned to ashes and the attempted vandalism of the Pacific Games infrastructure,” he said, referring to the riots in 2019 that were provoked by the government’s decision to switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing.

Australia helped restore order back then, and Honiara’s security deal with Canberra would remain in place despite the Solomon Islands’ rapprochement with China, the prime minister said. “We need to diversify the country’s relationship with other partners. What is wrong with that?” he asked.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has decried the planned deal between China and the Solomon Islands as an attempt by Beijing to “intimidate” Canberra. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she saw “very little reason” for the Chinese presence and predicted a “potential militarization of the region.”

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