Australia upset Solomon Islands looks beyond ‘Pacific family’ to meet security needs

By Melissa Coade

Thursday April 21, 2022

Marise Payne
Foreign minister Marise Payne. (AAP Image/James Ross)

“Australia is deeply disappointed by the signing of a security cooperation agreement between Solomon Islands and China,” Australian foreign minister Marise Payne said. 

Beijing announced a security pact between it and Solomon Islands was inked on Tuesday evening, drawing an official response from Australia’s top foreign affairs spokesperson that the deal was not aligned with ‘openness and transparency’ of countries in the regional Pacific family. 

Payne flagged concerns about the thin detail concerning how the deal was developed, also calling for more detail about the terms of the agreement and its consequences for the region. 

“We respect Solomon Islands’ right to make sovereign decisions about its national security,” Payne said. 

“Our consistently stated view, including from the perspective of Australia’s national interests, remains that the Pacific family is best placed to meet the security needs of the region.”

Late last year Australian peacekeepers, including 23 members of the Australian Federal Police and representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, were sent to Honiara, the Solomon Islands capital, during violent riots. Observers said the discontent among locals highlighted the fragility of nationhood in Solomon Islands. 

In her statement, Payne went on to say she was assured by remarks made by Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare that his country would never be used for military bases or other military institutions of foreign powers.

“We welcome recent statements from Prime Minister Sogavare that Australia is Solomon Islands’ security partner of choice.”

“Through RAMSI and again in response to the recent unrest, the Pacific family has always supported the Solomon Islands to address their security needs,” she said. 

The foreign minister added that Australia would consult with other neighbouring countries in a spirit consistent with regional security frameworks, and urged the Solomon Islands to do the same.

“We will continue to strongly encourage the Solomon Islands to engage in regional dialogue and to work with the Pacific family first, including prior to seeking security assistance from China under this arrangement,” Payne said. 

On Tuesday, Beijing foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin confirmed China’s state councilor and foreign minister Wang Yi had met with Solomon Islands’ foreign affairs and external trade minister, Jeremiah Manele, to officially sign an ‘intergovernmental framework agreement on security cooperation’. The agreement was ‘open, transparent and inclusive’, he argued, and did not target any other third party.

Wang told a press conference the security deal was a ‘normal’ exchange typical of two sovereign and independent countries. The aim of the pact was to ‘conduct cooperation’ activities for social order, protection of human life and property, humanitarian assistance and natural disaster response, he said.

“[The agreement] is based on respecting the will and actual need of Solomon Islands,” Wang said, alluding to building the capacity of the Solomon Islands to manage its own security issues. 

“The two sides will conduct cooperation in such areas as maintenance of social order, protection of the safety of people’s lives and property, humanitarian assistance and natural disaster response, in an effort to help Solomon Islands strengthen capacity building in safeguarding its own security.”


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