Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has used a brief official visit to Australia to vow that his government won’t allow foreign military installations or do anything to jeopardize security in the Pacific.
Sogavare met Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Canberra on Thursday following months of tension between the Solomon Islands and U.S. ally Australia that stemmed from the Sogavare government’s deepening relationship with China.
“Solomon Islands will never be used for foreign military installations or institutions of foreign countries because this will not be in the interest of Solomon Islands and its people,” Sogavare said.
“Solomon Islands will not do anything that will undermine our national security and jeopardize the security of any or all [Pacific Island] Forum countries,” he said.
Albanese said he welcomed Sogavare’s clear commitments.
“We regard security in our region as being critical, and we also regard the need to uplift the living standards and quality of life of people in the Pacific as being absolutely critical,” he said.
Earlier this year, the Solomon Islands signed with Beijing a secret security agreement, which amplified U.S. concerns about increased Chinese influence in the Pacific.
Neither country has released the text of the final agreement, but a purported draft that circulated online said China would be able to send security forces to protect its interests in the Solomon Islands.
The U.S. and Australia have indicated they want to prevent a permanent Chinese military presence in the region.
Over the past two decades, Beijing has amassed substantial goodwill with economically lagging Pacific island countries by building infrastructure and providing other assistance.
The United States last week promised more than U.S. $800 million in assistance to the region over a decade as it tries to rebuild relationships with island countries after a period of neglect.
Relations between Australia and the Solomon Islands have a history of tension.
Sogavare, who has been Solomon Islands prime minister four times, resented the power wielded by the Australian-led military intervention in the Solomon Islands from 2003 to 2017.
Known as the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, the Solomon Islands government requested support after lawlessness and economic collapse threatened to overwhelm the country.
Earlier this year, Sogavare gave a speech in the Solomon Islands parliament that criticized what he saw as the hypocrisy of Western media coverage of his government’s security pact with Beijing.
He said Australia also had not consulted with countries in the region before it entered its security and nuclear submarine pact with the United States and the United Kingdom, known as AUKUS.
On Thursday, Sogavare said his government’s priority is working with other countries to meet the substantial development needs of the Solomon Islands.
“The key to long-term peace and security in Solomon Islands rests with our ability to address the priorities of all provinces … including roads, bridges, market outlets for products, schools and hospitals, the list goes on,” he said.
BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.