A security treaty being drafted by China and the Solomon Islands would see Chinese police and other security forces operating on the Pacific island.
The pact is drawing concern among officials in New Zealand, Australia and the United States.
Government officials on the Solomon Islands said this week that a draft agreement with China has been initialed, and will now “be cleaned up and await signatures of the two countries’ foreign ministers,” as reported by the Associated Press.
Island officials further said that the agreement seeks to “respond to Solomon Islands’ soft and hard domestic threats. At the same time, the Solomon Islands stressed that it will continue to maintain its policy of being ‘Friends to all and enemies to none.'”
Earlier, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare rejected concerns of neighboring countries in allowing Chinese security forces into the region. Sogavare said such concerns were “utter nonsense,” adding that “I find it very insulting … to be branded as unfit to manage our sovereign affairs.”
The draft agreement will permit China to send police, military personnel and other armed forces to the Solomon Islands “to assist in maintaining social order” and for other reasons.
Also worrisome to the region is a provision which allows China to send warships to the Solomon Islands for stopovers and to replenish supplies, though officials claim China will not establish a naval base in the islands.
Causing deepening concern is a provision that China would have to approve all information about the agreement released to the public.
The Solomon Islands, with a population of some 700,000, switched its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019. That move, observers said, contributed to rioting that spread throughout the islands in November 2021 between residents of different islands.
Australian police have been stationed in Honiara, the capitol, to assist in maintaining peace since then, operating under a 2017 security treaty. The treaty allows for the rapid deployment of Australian police and troops.
Chinese police are currently on the islands conducting a training mission.
In response to the proposed treaty, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said that Chinese military forces stationed on the Solomon Islands could result in “the potential militarization of the region.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the Solomon Islands’ pact with China was “a reminder of the constant pressure and threats that present in our region to our own national security.”
The U.S. State Department has also spoken out against the treaty.
Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said this week that “relevant parties should see the China-Solomon Islands security cooperation objectively and rationally and stop making irresponsible remarks.”
“Attempts to provoke, obstruct and undermine China’s friendly relations with the island countries is not popular and will not succeed,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing.