Sogavare adamant deal with China won’t undermine regional security

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare during an official visit in China ... both countries say the security pact will not undermine regional security. Image: Facebook/Prime Minister Press Secretariat/RNZ

By Kelvin Anthony, RNZ Pacific regional correspondent and Koroi Hawkins, RNZ Pacific journalist

The Solomon Islands prime minister is adamant a security co-operation agreement his government has signed with China will not undermine regional security.

In Parliament yesterday, Manasseh Sogavare confirmed the controversial security agreement with China had been signed despite strong opposition to the deal from the other side of the house.

The pact, a draft of which was first leaked online last month, raised domestic and regional anxieties about Beijing’s increasing influence in the South Pacific.

It is feared that it could open the door to China’s military presence in Honiara — a claim rejected both by China and Solomon Islands.

Sogavare has defended the intention behind the move, saying its aim is for the nation to diversify its security ties “to improve the quality of lives” of its people and to “address soft and hard security threats facing the country”.

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

In response, opposition leader Matthew Wale called on Sogavare to make the signed document public “to allay any regional fears of any hidden parts of it”.

‘Disclosure of the agreement’
“And now that the agreement has been signed whether the Prime Minister will allow a disclosure of the agreement so that members may have a perusal of it,” Wale said.

The leader of the Solomon Islands' opposition party, Matthew Wale
Opposition leader Matthew Wale … call to make the signed document public “to allay any regional fears of any hidden parts of it”. Image: RNZ

Wale’s sentiments were echoed by another opposition MP, the chairman of the foreign relations committee, Peter Kenilorea Jr.

Kenilorea Jr said Sogavare’s decision to strike a military cooperation deal with China lacked transparency and he believed whatever efforts partners were putting in from the region were not going to make a difference.

But he also expressed concern, now that the two countries have made the agreement official, that it could become the source for domestic tensions.

“It will just further inflame emotions and tensions and again underscores the mistrust that people have on the government,” Peter Kenilorea Jr said.

“It is cause for concern for many Solomon Islanders, but definitely a certain segment of the society will now feel even more concerned and might want to start to take certain action which is not in the best interest of Solomon Islands in our own unity as a country.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern … “serious concerns” about the security pact. Photo: Image Robert Kitchin/Stuff/Pool/RNZ

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had raised “serious concerns” about the security pact when the news initially broke two weeks ago.

‘No need’, says Ardern
And following the announcement on Wednesday that the deal was done, Ardern reiterated her concerns.

“We see no need for this agreement,” Ardern said.

“We’re concerned about the militarisation of the Pacific and we continue to call on the Solomons to work with the Pacific with any concerns around their security they may have.”

RNZ Pacific’s Honiara-based correspondent Georgina Kekea said the issue had divided public opinion in the country.

Kekea said people were already anticipating the signing of the pact.

“From what we’ve seen there are some who are with the signing, there some who are not. Some who are a bit sceptical about what the future will be like in the Solomon Islands with such an agreement being signed with China,” she said.

“So, there’s mixed feelings I would say on the ground, especially with the signing.”

US officials confer with Honiara
Meanwhile, senior US officials are meeting with Solomon Islands government this week with the security deal expected to be a major point of discussions.

Writing on his Village Explainer website in an article entitled “Pacific stuff up?”, Vanuatu columnist Dan McGarry writes that “if the coming election goes to Australia’s Labor party, Penny Wong is very likely to become Foreign Minister. So when she speaks, people across the region prick up their ears.

“Without the least disrespect to her recent forebears, she could be one of the most acute, incisive and insightful FMs in recent history.

“Whether she’ll be any more effective than them is another matter.”

The main port in Honiara.
The main port in Honiara … fears of a door opening to a Chinese military presence in Solomon Islands. Image: Solomon Islands Ports Authority

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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