Amid a regional backlash, the Solomon Islands said it would not allow a Chinese military base in the Pacific islands nation despite its plans to sign a security pact with Beijing.
Following the initialling of a draft agreement on security, the office of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said it does not invite China to establish a military base.
“Government is conscious of the security ramification of hosting a military base, and it will not be careless to allow such initiative to take place under its watch,” a statement said.
Sogavare has not released details of the security agreement with China, amid concern sparked by a leaked draft that allowed Chinese navy ships to replenish in the islands. Ministers have not yet signed it.
When asked about the most recent comments from the Solomon Islands, China’s foreign ministry said the “starting point” of the security agreement is to safeguard people’s safety and property security.
“It does not have any military overtones,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing on Friday. “The relevant remarks and speculation in the media are groundless,” said Lijian.
Four people were killed during violent anti-government protests and much of the Chinatown neighbourhood of Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, was destroyed during violent anti-government protests in November.
Pacific leaders concerned
Leaders of New Zealand, Australia and the Federated States of Micronesia have confronted the Solomon Islands to not sign the security pact, as it would cause “grave security concerns.”
The leader of the Federated States of Micronesia last Thursday feared the Pacific could become embroiled in war between China and the United States.
New Zealand says the pact could upset long-standing regional security cooperation and Australia’s Defence Minister Peter Dutton on Friday said he respected Sogavare’s perspective but urged caution.
A Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands would prompt Australia to significantly increase its military deployment to the region because the islands are very close to Australia, Dutton said.
Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne bluntly shared on local radio stating “we don’t believe that there is a need for countries outside the Pacific family to have a security role.”
New Zealand: Pacific leaders may need to meet
New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta says Pacific leaders may need to meet over the security deal.
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta says Pacific leaders want “greater clarity” from the Solomon Islands about their contentious China security deal and may need to bring forward a crucial regional meeting.
“It’s my view that several of the Pacific nations will want greater clarity from the Solomons around the nature of those agreements, and the extent to which the sovereign interests of Solomons may well impact on the regional sovereignty and security interests of the Pacific,” Mahuta said on Friday, following a visit to Fiji.
Mahuta said the leaders of the 18 countries that make up the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), which includes New Zealand and Solomon Islands, were due to meet in June. But such a meeting may need to occur earlier in response to the Solomon Islands security deal.