Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has guaranteed there would never be a Chinese military base in his country, saying that any such deal with Beijing would undermine regional security, make the Pacific state an “enemy,” and “put our country and our people as targets for potential military strikes.”
He has also said that Australia remains the “security partner of choice” for Solomon Islands and he would only call on China to send security personnel to the country if there was a “gap” that Canberra could not meet.
Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, Radio New Zealand and Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corp in his first media interview since signing the controversial security deal with China earlier this year, Sogavare said it was time for the world to “trust us.”
“Let me assure you all again, there is no military base, nor any other military facility, or institutions in the agreement. And I think that’s a very important point that we continue to reiterate to the family in the region,” he said.
News of the deal with China sparked huge concern among Western countries, particularly language in the text saying China would be permitted to “make ship visits.”
However, Sogavare pushed back against claims it would lead to a military base in the country, which lies less than 2,000km from Australia’s east coast.
“I have said it before and I will say it again, that is not in someone’s interest, nor the interest of the region for any military base, to be established in any Pacific island country, let alone Solomon Islands,” he said.
“I think the reason is simple; the reason is regionalism, the moment we establish a foreign military base, we immediately become an enemy. And we also put our country and our people as targets for potential military strikes,” he said.
Sogavare added that Chinese security personnel would only be invited to the Solomon Islands by the Solomon Islands government if Australia could not meet the requests for security assistance from the government.
“If there is any gap, we will not allow our country to go down the drain. If there is a gap, we will call on support from China, but we’ve made it very clear to the Australians, and many times when we have this conversation with them, that they are a partner of choice ... when it comes to security issues in the region, we will call on them first,” he said.
However, the assurances seem at odds with comments made by Sogavare last week, in which he praised China as a “worthy partner,” while saying relationships with some countries “at times can sour,” in an apparent reference to Australia.
He also said he wanted China to play a permanent role in training police in his country, and welcomed donations of police vehicles and drones from Beijing.
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