As it diversifies security relations, the Solomon Islands confirmed on Friday that it is forming a partnership with China to combat security threats and ensure a safe environment for investment.
A security treaty with the Pacific island nation would be a significant step forward for China in a region that US allies Australia and New Zealand have viewed as their “backyard” for decades.
Both have expressed concern about the impact of military cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands on regional security after a draft document outlining the proposed cooperation was leaked this week.
“Broadening partnerships is needed to improve the quality of lives of our people and address soft and hard security threats facing the country,” the Solomon Islands government said in its first public comment on the matter.
In a statement it said it was “diversifying the country’s security partnership, including with China” and was working to sign a number of agreements with it “to further create a secure and safe environment for local and foreign investments”.
On Thursday, a Solomon Islands official told Reuters a security agreement with China covering the military would be sent to its cabinet for consideration. The Solomons has already signed a policing deal with China.
The arrangement would cover humanitarian needs besides maintaining the rule of law, the Solomon Islands said, adding that it needed to rebuild its economy after recent riots and would sign an air services pact with China and increase trade.
A security agreement with Australia, signed in 2017, would be preserved as the Solomon Islands deepened ties with China, it added.
Australian Minister for Pacific Zed Seselja said the prime minister of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, had been told of Australia’s concern over the discussions with China and Canberra expected there would be “significant pushback in the region”.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, commenting on the issue earlier on Friday, said Australia and New Zealand were part of the “Pacific family” and had a history of providing security support and responding to crises.
“There are others who may seek to pretend to influence and may seek to get some sort of hold in the region and we are very conscious of that,” he told reporters.