Solomon Islands’ prime minister has guaranteed that there will never be a Chinese military base in his country, saying such a deal with Beijing would undermine regional security, make Solomon Islands an “enemy” and “would of our country and our people as targets for potential military strikes”.
He also said that Australia remained the “security partner of choice” for the Solomon Islands and that he would only call on China to send security personnel to the country if there was a “gap” that Australia could not fill.
Speaking exclusively to The Guardian, RNZ and SIBC in his first media interview since signing the controversial security deal with China earlier this year, Manasseh Sogavare said it was time for the world to “we trust”.
“Let me reassure you again that there is no military base, or any other military installation or institution in the agreement. And I think that is a very important point that we continue to reiterate at the family in the area,” he said.
News of the deal with China has caused huge concern among Western countries, especially the wording of the text saying that China would be allowed to “visit ships”. But Sogavare pushed back on claims it would lead to a military base in the country, which is less than 2,000km off Australia’s east coast.
“I have said it before and I will say it again, it is in no one’s interest, nor in the interest of the region, that a military base be established in any Pacific island country, let alone Solomon Islands,” Sogavare said.
“I think the reason is simple; the reason is regionalism, as soon as we establish a foreign military base, we immediately become an enemy. And we also place our country and our people as targets for possible military strikes.
Sogavare also said Chinese security personnel would only be invited to the Solomon Islands by the Solomon Islands government if Australia could not respond to requests for government security assistance.
“If there is a gap, we will not let our country down. If there is a gap, we will appeal to China for support. But we have made it very clear to the Australians, and to many times when we have this conversation with them, that they are a partner of choice…when it comes to security issues in the region, we will call on them first.
However, the assurances appear at odds with Sogavare’s comments last week, in which he hailed China as a “worthy partner”, while saying that relations with certain countries “can sometimes deteriorate”, in an apparent reference. to Australia. He also said he wanted China to play a permanent role in training his country’s police and welcomed donations of police vehicles and drones from Beijing.
Sogavare spent much of his time at the 51st Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting in Fiji this week, allaying fears that his country will host China’s first military presence in the Pacific. He said: “We will do nothing that would endanger any member of our Pacific family.”
“What I said throughout the signing of the agreement between the countries [is that it is a] sovereign issue of the countries concerned. However, we also appreciate that Solomon Islands is part of the Pacific family. We have therefore ensured that the agreement in no way compromises the security of the region.
So far, Sogavare has not responded to media questions about the security deal, which was leaked in late March. Yet on Thursday he condemned journalists for contributing to misinformation, saying, “Our office is still open. The officials are there and I am also accessible.
He accused the media of “contributing to misinformation and then blowing up[ing] out of proportion and said he hoped the interview would “give us a chance to clear things up”.
Sogavare’s assurances come as other Pacific leaders have raised concerns about China’s attempts to divide the region and fear that China is trying to reintroduce a sweeping economic and security deal in the region.
The deal, which was offered to 10 leaders during Wang Yi’s marathon tour of the region in June, was rejected, but China has indicated it will bring the deal back at a later date.
“I assumed they would never stop trying, didn’t they?” said Surangel Whipps Jr, the president of Palau, speaking on the sidelines of the PIF. “I mean, if they wanted to, they’re going to keep pushing.”
Palau, which has diplomatic relations with Taiwan and not with China, was not among the 10 countries offered the deal, and Whipps said that by excluding some Pacific island countries it “weakens the OK”.
“I think it’s an attempt to divide the Pacific again. We just got back together, let’s stay together,” he said. “If we are truly brothers in the Pacific, let’s make sure this doesn’t affect our future peace, security and prosperity. You know, we respect the sovereignty of peoples, but also, collectively, look at how it affects us all.
Daniel Panuelo, the president of the Federated States of Micronesia, expressed serious concerns about the proposed regional deal with Pacific leaders in a scathing letter warning that such a security pact could result in Pacific nations being the “center future confrontation between these great powers”. .
Forum partner countries such as the United States, China and Japan are usually invited to attend a post-forum dialogue meeting, during which they can make presentations, but this year the dialogue between partners is not will not take place during the summit week. China was asked not to participate in this year’s PIF by forum chairman Frank Bainimarama, the Prime Minister of Fiji.
Panuelo confirmed it was to give Pacific leaders some breathing room from the intense geopolitical tension.
“That’s very much the sentiment of our members,” he said.
Panuelo said the regional deal has yet to be brought to Pacific countries by China and will not be discussed by leaders during Thursday’s retreat.
“It will not be discussed. Our topics are what is in the best interest of our Pacific community, the things that influence this 2050 strategy, climate change, the Suva accord [that resolves the fracture in the PIF with Micronesian countries].”
But Panuelo expected it to be brought back to Pacific countries at the next partners’ dialogue forum, which could take place in September, on the sidelines of the Pacific Islands Leaders Conference.
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