The Solomon Islands have come under harsh criticism from Australia over the Pacific island nation’s plans to sign a security pact with China.
According to a leaked draft of the agreement, which hasn’t been finalized, the Solomon Islands could “request China to send police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces.” China would also be able to “make ship visits, to carry out logistical replenishment in, and have stopover and transition in Solomon Islands.”
The leak fueled speculation in Australia and New Zealand that China is seeking to establish a military base in the Solomon Islands, which is about 1,200 miles north of Australia’s coast. Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the potential deal has caused “great concern” across the Pacific.
On Tuesday, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare spoke out against the backlash. “We find it very insulting to be branded as unfit to manage our sovereign affairs,” he said. “Our security approach is not done in a vacuum and not without due consideration to all our partners.”
Sogavare also rejected the idea that the Solomon Islands was pressured by China to make the deal. “The Security Treaty is at the request of the Solomon Islands, and we have not been pressured … in any way by our new friends,” he said.
The Solomon Islands has grown closer to China in recent years. In 2019, the Pacific island nation severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan and established formal relations with Beijing.
The potential deal comes after Australia has taken steps to boost military cooperation with the US and its allies in the Asia Pacific to counter China. Last year, Australia, the US, and Britain signed the AUKUS military pact that will give Canberra access to technology to build nuclear-powered submarines, which could be used to patrol waters near China.
Earlier this year, Australia and Japan inked a military pact that will allow each nation’s military to deploy to the other’s territory for drills. Australia and Japan — as well as the US and India — are members of the Quad, an informal military grouping that some hawks in Washington view as a potential foundation for an Asian NATO-style alliance.