Solomon ready to sign security pact, denies pressure for base in China — BenarNews
A controversial security deal with China is ‘ready for signing’, the Solomon Islands leader told parliament, but did not reveal details, saying only that his government had not been pressured to let China build a naval base in the country.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare made the remarks in parliament on Tuesday evening, according to multiple dispatches. Neighboring powers have expressed concern over the pact that China has championed as normal cooperation with Pacific island nations.
“We are under no pressure from our new friends and there is no intention of asking China to build a military base in the Solomon Islands,” Sogavare was quoted as told.
A draft deal leaked online last week would allow Beijing to establish bases and deploy troops in the Solomon Islands, located about 1,700 km (1,050 miles) off Australia’s northeast coast .
The document has sparked fears in the region’s traditional powers Australia and New Zealand, with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying her country views the pact as “gravely concerning”.
It’s unclear if the leaked draft differs from the final deal.
Sogavare told lawmakers that to meet the country’s security needs, “it is clear that we need to diversify the country’s relationship with other countries”, but existing security arrangements with Australia would remain.
Its “diversification” policy was evident in November 2021 when Sogavare asked Australia, then China, to send police forces to help quell violent riots that rocked the capital, Honiara.
Alexander Vuving, a professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Center for Security Studies based in Hawaii, said Sogavare’s strategy is not unusual for leaders of small Pacific island states who are “ready to ride the big powers against each other, thus inflating the values of their states to the great powers.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said on Tuesday that “normal law enforcement and security cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands…is consistent with international law and customary international practices.”
“We hope relevant countries will sincerely respect Solomon Islands’ sovereignty and independent decisions instead of condescendingly deciding what others should and shouldn’t do,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
China’s Growing Presence in the Pacific
Beijing does not hide its ambition to set up military bases in the region. Some Chinese analysts, like Qi Huaigaoassociate professor at Fudan University, suggested that to compete with the United States in the Western Pacific, China needed to have bases in the Solomon Islands, Samoa and Vanuatu for commercial and military supply purposes.
In 2018, the media reported on China’s plan to build a based in Vanuatu prompted a stern warning from then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
David Capie, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, told Radio Free Asia earlier this week that China “wants to be able to exploit its rapidly growing navy in the wider Pacific, complicating American plans in the event of a future conflict.
“A base in the Pacific would allow People’s Liberation Army Navy ships to operate longer away from their home ports, and in the future they could also be used for intelligence gathering and surveillance,” he said.
This would significantly boost China’s intelligence-gathering capabilities, which would often have been carried out by marine research vessels.
Data provided by ship tracking website MarineTraffic shows that the Chinese spacecraft tracking vessel Yuanwang-5 is currently operating in the Western Pacific, not far from the Solomon Islands.
The Yuanwang-class vessels are “versatile signals and technical intelligence gathering platforms”, said Paul Buchanan, director of risk consultancy 36th Parallel Assessments based in Auckland, New Zealand.
The Yuanwang-5’s presence is normal but “it would not be surprising if it stopped in Honiara as part of the deployment to register the seriousness of China’s intent in the region,” Buchanan said.
This report was produced by Radio Free Asia, sister entity of BenarNews.