Solomon Islands leader hits back at criticism over deepening security ties with China

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Solomon Islands leader hit back at criticism of his country’s deepening security ties with China on Monday, saying the United States and Australia had nothing to fear. .

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare made the remarks at a press conference in the capital Honiara after returning from a visit to China, where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other senior officials.

Sogavare said that during his stay in China, he signed nine agreements and memoranda, including a police cooperation plan.

He said the plan “strengthens cooperation on law enforcement and security issues with a commitment from China to provide support where needed” to build police capacity in law enforcement. in the Pacific nation.

The new agreements come after the Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China last year, raising fears of a military buildup in the region. The United States retaliated with its own diplomatic moves, including opening an embassy in the Solomon Islands.

The Solomon Islands switched allegiance from the self-governing island of Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, threatening close ties with the United States that date back to World War II.

The United States and Australia have raised concerns about the secrecy of the new policing plan.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong told reporters she asked about the plan when she met with senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi in Jakarta last week.

Wong said Australia wanted more transparency and believed “security is best provided within the Pacific family”.

At the press conference, Sogavare accused the United States and Australia of being “not neighbours” in criticizing the police plan.

“It is nothing but interference by foreign states in the internal affairs of the Solomon Islands,” Sogavare said.

He said China’s plan to help police complements existing Australian and New Zealand policing programs in his country.

“Australia and the United States should not fear Chinese police support in the Solomon Islands,” Sogavare said.

Home to 700,000 people and located about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Australia, the Solomon Islands have been one of China’s biggest successes in a drive to expand its presence in the South Pacific.

China’s Foreign Ministry said earlier that Sogavare’s visit to Beijing would “inject new impetus” into relations and “deepen mutual political trust”.

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