China and the Solomon Islands signed a security pact causing concern for Australia

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China and the Solomon Islands signed a security pact causing concern for Australia
The Solomon Islands, a chain of hundreds of islands lying east of Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean with a population of less than 700,000, has signed a security agreement with China. China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin announced the deal in Beijing on Tuesday evening, saying it would involve China cooperating with Honiara to maintain social order, protect people's safety and aid, combat natural disasters and help safeguard national security.

China and the Solomon Islands signed a security pact causing concern for Australia

Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. fear that the agreement could open the door to a Chinese naval base in the South Pacific. Australia is concerned that such a pact could lead to a step toward a Chinese military presence less than 2,000 km (1,200 miles) from the country's shores. The capital, Honiara, is on the island of Guadalcanal and is a site of a significant battle between the U.S. and Japanese military in WWII.

According to a leaked memo that surfaced on social media recently, Beijing told the Solomon Islands in December that it wanted to send a team of ten Chinese police armed with weapons such as sniper rifles and machine guns, as well as listening devices, to protect the embassy staff in the aftermath of riots in Honiara.

China and the Solomon Islands signed a security pact causing concern for Australia

A separate leaked draft of a security pact included provisions for Chinese police to safeguard companies and infrastructure and for Chinese naval vessels to replenish in Honiara. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare explained to parliament on Wednesday, "We intend to beef up and strengthen our police capability to deal with any future instability by properly equipping the police to take full responsibility of the country's security responsibilities, in the hope we will never be required to invoke any of our bilateral security arrangements." Sogavare has previously said that the Solomons has "no intention whatsoever … to ask China to build a military base."

Sogavare cut the Solomon Islands' longstanding diplomatic ties with Taiwan favouring Beijing. The move did not go down well with everyone in the Solomon Islands, and Daniel Suidani, the premier of Malaita province, rejected it, saying he would push for Malaita, the country's largest province, to gain independence. The November riots also reflected the ongoing fallout from the decision to sever diplomatic ties.

China and the Solomon Islands signed a security pact causing concern for Australia

Protesters most recently targeted Honiara's Chinatown and attempted to storm Sogavare's home in November 2021. Following a request from the government, a contingent of Australian police assisted in restoring stability. Australia also led a multilateral mission in 2003 in the aftermath of violence and a coup at the end of the 1990s. China is already the Solomon Islands' top export destination, buying some 65 per cent of Honiara's exports in 2019, followed by Italy at 9 per cent.

China and the Solomon Islands signed a security pact causing concern for Australia

Australia is the destination of less than 1 per cent of Solomons' exports. China is also the source of just less than a quarter of the country's imports, followed by Australia with 13 per cent.

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