China has pledged to deliver water cannons to the Solomon Islands, just days after Australia provided rifles, underscoring the growing competition for influence in the Pacific nations.
China and the Solomon Islands were to hold a ceremony on Friday morning to hand over two water cannons and an undisclosed number of vehicles to police, the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) reported, citing program notes for the event.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Chinese Ambassador to the Solomon Islands Li Ming (李明) would make speeches, the report said, adding that Chinese police providing training in the country would put on a martial arts demonstration.
On Wednesday, the Solomon Islands government said its police received 13 vehicles and 60 rifles from Australia at a ceremony attended by Sogavare and Australian High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands Lachlan Strahan.
The US and Australia have been redoubling efforts to woo the Pacific nations since April, when China and the Solomons signed a security pact. Sogavare later said the agreement would allow Beijing to send police and military personnel to the Solomons “to assist in maintaining social order,” and that Chinese warships could make stops.
He insisted China would not be allowed to build a military base, a possibility that worried officials in Washington and Canberra.
In September, Solomon Islands joined 13 other Pacific nations in signing a US-led partnership that includes commitments for increased action on climate change, economic development and security cooperation. US President Joe Biden earlier committed more than US$810 million to a new Pacific initiative.
That agreement was similar to a deal the Chinese government tried to strike with Pacific nations in May that was rejected by regional leaders. The head of the Pacific Islands Forum said in July that Beijing had not given leaders enough time to consult on the agreement.
China increased its financial assistance to the Solomon Islands and Kiribati even as it cut overall support for the region in 2020, the Lowy Institute said in a report last week.
China provided US$14.4 million to the Solomons and US$21.1 million to Kiribati that year, and a further US$53.5 million in total last year, the Australian think tank said.
Solomon Islands opposition lawmaker Matthew Wale voiced concerns that his nation was “becoming the playground where big powers play” following Australia’s gift.
“It is clear Australia is anxious that if they do not supply guns then China will,” he said in a statement on Facebook on Wednesday, while also accusing China of engaging in “gun diplomacy.”
“Geopolitical interests has surpassed national interest in this country and it is a sad state of affairs,” he said.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Richard Marles denied his government was trying to out-compete China in equipment supplies.
“We’ve been working with the Solomon Islands police force over a very long period of time,” he told ABC.
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