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Solomon’s Island leader looks for understanding over China deal from Pacific friends

Thursday 14 July 2022 | Written by RNZ | Published in Regional, Solomon Islands

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Solomon’s Island leader looks for understanding over China deal from Pacific friends
Pacific leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum in Suva Photo: RNZ/ Samuel Rillstone

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has asked the rest of the Pacific Island nations to trust his country's reasons for having agreed to a security pact with China.

Sogavare has been at the centre of regional diplomacy efforts for the past few months.

His decision to enter into a security deal with China earlier this year sent alarm bells ringing across the Pacific, raising concerns it could open up opportunities for Beijing to set up a military base in Honiara.

It was a decision described by the Pacific Islands Forum members, which includes Australia and New Zealand, as "concerning" and a potential threat to regional security.

This week, Sogavare is in Suva attending the 51st Pacific Islands Forum leaders' meeting in Fiji, which kicked off in dramatic fashion with Kiribati quitting the regional body on Saturday setting the tone for the annual meeting.

Talking exclusively to RNZ Pacific on Thursday, the enigmatic political figure conceded he has had to "explain" and "will assure" Pacific leaders that his country is a "permanent part of the Pacific family".

"I consider this meeting to be very important because this is concerned with the future of the region," Sogavare told RNZ Pacific.

"Solomon Islands is part of the big family in the region and we know where our boundaries are and what our responsibilities are when it comes to pushing the agendas of the Blue Pacific," he said.

"I can understand the rationale for such concerns. However, it is now time for our friends and partners to also understand what we are saying and trust us and accept our explanations.

"It is all about trust…and our commitment to the peace, progress in, and prosperity of our region."

The security agreement with Beijing, which has attracted significant regional and international publicity, is wide-ranging, he said.

"The moment we establish a foreign military base we immediately become an enemy [of the Pacific]," he said.

"We also put our country and our people as targets for potential military strikes and Solomon Islands government will never allow our country and people to become military targets."

'We will call on support from our partners'

He said there should not be anxieties around China sending law enforcement to Honiara as it can only be at the request of Solomon Islands government.

Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare. Photo: SIG news service

"We will not allow our country to go down the drain. If there is a gap, we will call on support from our partners," he said.

He stressed that Solomon Islands "have made it very clear to the Australians…many times that they are a partner of choice when it comes to security issues in the region.

"We will call on them first," he said, adding "and if there are gaps that they cannot fill, of course, we would like to invoke our arrangement with the People's Republic of China and we made it very clear to them."

Responding to questions about the United States government announcing new measures to strengthen its relations in the region on Wednesday, Sogavare said: "we welcome development partners who are able to contribute to the development of the of the region".

"They [U.S.] left us 28 years ago and they came back and met with us and they said that they will re-establish their office in Solomons.

"We receive them with open arms and the genuineness [of U.S. partnership] be tested during the course of our relationship."