A proposed security agreement with the Solomon Islands could pave the way for China to establish a military base less than 2000km from Australia’s coast.
The Solomon Islands signed a policing deal with China this week and will send a proposal for a broader security agreement covering the military to its cabinet for consideration, an official of the Pacific island nation's government said on Thursday.
If approved, it would be the first time a strategic adversary has been within striking distance of Australia since World War II, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
The Solomon Islands switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, which partly fuelled discontent that led to riots in the capital Honiara, in November.
Australia has historically provided security support to the Solomon Islands and led a policing mission to restore order in the wake of riots, at the request of Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare.
Karen Galokale, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Police, National Security and Correctional Services in the Solomon Islands, told Reuters a cooperation agreement signed between the Solomon Islands and China covered policing.
She confirmed a wider agreement was being discussed.
"Any other arrangement on broad security would be just the same as the Australian agreement," she told Reuters in a telephone interview, giving the first public confirmation of the broader security talks.
"It will have to go to cabinet," Ms Galokale said.
Ms Galokale said the policing arrangement with China was the same as arrangements the Solomon Islands already had with countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Australia concerned over China's move into the Pacific
Australia has a bilateral security agreement with the Solomon Islands covering the deployment of police and armed forces, signed in 2018.
Minister for home affairs Karen Andrews said Canberra was concerned about Chinese military activity in the Pacific islands.
"The Morrison government has been very clear in its position in relation to China," she said.
"In relation to the Pacific region. That is our backyard, that is our neighbourhood, and we’re very concerned of any activity that is taking place in the Pacific Islands.
"Our Pacific Island friends know we’re there to support them."
Solomons opposition MP Peter Kenilorea told ABC he’s "deeply concerned" about the development.
Anthony Veke, minister for police in the Solomon Islands, said in a statement on Thursday he had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Wang Xiaohong, executive vice minister of China's Ministry of Public Security, on policing cooperation in a virtual meeting on March 18.
"The signing of this MOU simply shows to the global community that we are here building meaningful cooperation, one that is based on teamwork and seriousness to develop Solomon Islands," Mr Veke said.
Ms Galokale also attended the virtual meeting.
Copy of drafted proposal leaked online
A draft copy of the broader security MOU circulated on social media states it would cover Chinese police, armed police and the military assisting the Solomon Islands on social order, disaster response and protecting the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands.
The draft also provides for Chinese naval ships to carry out logistical replenishments in Solomon Islands, fuelling anxiety in Canberra it would be a step towards a Chinese military base in the region.
"Solomon Islands may, according to its own needs, request China to send police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces to Solomon Islands to assist in maintaining social order, protecting people’s lives and property, providing humanitarian assistance and carrying out disaster response," the draft framework agreement states.
"China may, according to its own needs and with the consent of Solomon Islands, make ship visits to, carry out logistical replenishment in and have stopover and transition in the Solomon Islands, and the relevant forces of China can be used to protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands."
On Tuesday, the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force published photographs on its website of police training with replica guns provided by China.
Ms Galokale said she was aware of the social media reports and would not speculate on timing for the process to approve a security cooperation deal with China.
"We have a broad security treaty with Australia and policing cooperation. If there is anything with the PRC it will be just the same," she said, referring to China.
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