Thomas Peter / AP
WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A leaked document indicates that China may increase its military presence in the Solomon Islands – including by ship visit – in a development that raises alarms in nearby Australia and beyond.
The Solomon Islands revealed on Thursday that they had signed a police cooperation agreement with China. But more worrying for Australia was the draft of a broader security scheme that was leaked online.
Under the draft agreement, China could send police, military personnel and other armed forces to the Solomon Islands “to help maintain social order” and for a number of other reasons. It could also send ships to the islands for stopovers and to rebuild supplies.
The draft agreement stipulates that China must sign any information released on joint security arrangements, including at media briefings.
Anna Powles, an associate professor of international security at New Zealand’s Massey University, said Australia, New Zealand and the United States would all be “very concerned” about the draft agreement, which was ambitious on the part of China.
Powles said it would be interesting to know what kind of goods China might want to send to the Solomon Islands to service its ships, and whether there was potential for missionary encroachment in the future, such as China developing a naval base.
She said she was concerned that China was trying to control the political narrative by controlling what information could be released publicly.
Much of the wording of the draft agreement was vague, Powles said, including exactly what type of military and paramilitary forces China had to send to the Solomon Islands. She said it was either clumsily worded or deliberately opaque.
Without directly commenting on the content of the draft agreement, the Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a statement saying “We would be concerned about any action that destabilises the security of our region.”
The department said that after unrest last year in the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara, Australia and its neighbors had been able to send security assistance “without the need for external support.”
“Pacific Island nations have the right to make sovereign decisions,” the department said. “Australia’s partnership with our Pacific family is focused on economic prosperity, security and development in our region.”
New Zealand said it planned to raise its concerns about the document with both the Solomon Islands and China.
“If it is genuine, this agreement would be very worrying,” said Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta. “Such agreements will always be the right of any sovereign country to conclude, but developments within this alleged agreement may destabilize existing institutions and arrangements that have long supported the security of the Pacific region.”
It was not immediately clear when the security agreement could be terminated, signed or enter into force.
The Solomon Islands, home to about 700,000 people, shifted its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, which was a contributing factor to last year’s riots.
Last month, the United States announced plans to open an embassy in the Solomon Islands, and set out in unusually sharp terms a plan to increase its influence in the South Pacific before China becomes “heavily embedded.”
The United States previously operated an embassy in the Solomon Islands for five years before closing it in 1993. Since then, U.S. diplomats from neighboring Papua New Guinea have been accredited to the Solomon Islands, which has a U.S. consular agency.
A press release from the Solomon Islands government about its new police deal with China revealed few details. The statement said the agreement had been signed at a virtual meeting between China’s Wang Xiaohong, a deputy minister, and Solomon Islands Police Minister Anthony Veke.
Wang said in the statement that since the Solomon Islands began to recognize China diplomatically, “bilateral relations have developed rapidly and achieved fruitful results”, and that China was ready to “promote practical cooperation in policing and law enforcement.”
Veke, meanwhile, said the Solomon Islands government placed great emphasis on its relationship with China.
The document indicates that China could strengthen the military in Solomons: NPR
Source link The document indicates that China could strengthen the military in Solomons: NPR