Solomon’s PM tells Australia no Chinese military presence

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said Friday he had assured Australia that his country would not allow a Chinese military presence on its territory.

The island nation was at the center of a diplomatic row in the South Pacific between the United States, Australia and their allies on the one hand and an increasingly assertive China on the other.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with Sogavare in Canberra on Thursday to smooth over ties that have become frayed since the Solomon Islands signed a security pact with Beijing earlier this year – a move that has raised fears of a Chinese military presence in the region triggered.

“In relation to China, this is a sensitive issue that we discussed and I reassured Australia when I met with Anthony Albanese yesterday that we will not allow this,” Sogavare said in a written response to questions raised sent by AFP.

Earlier, however, Sogavare said China would be allowed to build shipyards and airports – which could be useful for both civilian and military purposes.

Solomon Islands shifted diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 2019 and signed its security pact with China earlier this year.

Violent demonstrations erupted in the Solomon Islands’ capital, Honiara, in November last year, fueled in part by China’s growing influence in the country but also fueled by poverty and inter-island rivalries.

Much of Honiara’s Chinatown was set on fire.

More such unrest is “highly unlikely,” Sogavare told AFP, saying his government has taken measures to control any violence.

Relations between Solomon Islands and Australia have been strained in recent months.

Canberra offered in September to help Solomon Islands fund the upcoming national election – an offer Sogavare initially condemned but later accepted.

The Solomon Islands government has been sensitive to criticism of its relations with China.

Earlier this year, Sogavare threatened to ban foreign media after Australia’s national broadcaster aired a report on increasing Chinese influence in the Solomon Islands.

Sogavare said he had expressed concern to Albanese about the behavior of Australian journalists, accusing them of “failing to live up to standards when they cover our affairs”.

This week, Solomon’s Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele said he was “uncomfortable” with indirect references to China in a draft US-Pacific partnership statement.

And Sogavare told the United Nations in September his country had been “slandered” over its relationship with Beijing.