Australia to aid Solomons police, seeks to block China

Australia will help prop up the Solomon Islands police force after a request from its new prime minister as it works to decrease China’s presence in the Pacific nation.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese welcomed his counterpart Jeremiah Manele with a guard of honour at Parliament House on Wednesday ahead of high-level meetings.

The Australian Federal Police commissioner took part in the meeting with the Solomons delegation as Mr Manele raised doubling the police force to 3000 officers as a first step in strengthening security before increasing it to 5000.

Australia’s support for the police force would help the Solomons “reduce its reliance on external partners”, a joint statement said, referring to a Chinese security pact without directly naming it.

Solomon Islands outlined a three-tier security arrangement on the back of a strengthened police force to help meet domestic needs.

The first level of response would be from the enhanced police force, the second would add assistance from Melanesian Spearhead Group countries and the third call would be made to Pacific Island Forum nations, which includes Australia.

Canberra is vehemently opposed to any Chinese security presence in the Pacific and warned there was no role for Beijing when it comes to policing after former prime minister Manasseh Sogavare inked a security pact with China.

Australia and Pacific island nations were “well placed to meet the security needs of our region”, Mr Albanese said during a joint press conference with his counterpart on Wednesday.

“We regard security as the job of our Pacific family.”

Heeding that “I hear you very clearly in terms of Australia’s interests, in terms of Australia’s concerns with regards to security”, Mr Manele suggested China may yet play a role with domestic security as “allotment will continue to be a challenge”.

Security was intertwined with development, Mr Manele said, but he acknowledged “our partners – China and Australia – they have security strategic interests as well”.

“Our security partnerships, including with China, is domestically focused. We are trying to address internal security challenges,” he said.

“In our case, we see security through a development lens … it’s important for us to work with all our partners to address these development challenges going forward.”

But while the Solomons would work with all partners, Australia remained its primary one for security, Mr Manele added.

Australia is open to a “stronger and deeper partnership with the Solomon Islands in accordance with their priorities” that include economic development and growth, Mr Albanese said.

The creation of jobs through aiding infrastructure projects as well as the Pacific labour mobility scheme has helped prop up Solomons’ development, he said.

Two vessels will also be delivered to the Solomons to aid policing efforts.

Mr Manele also met with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton.

There was “an abiding friendship that must always continue between our two nations”, Mr Dutton told parliament.

Australia would partner with Solomon Islands to prop up domestic stability, he said.

Mr Manele invited the prime minister to visit Solomon Islands after making Australia his first international trip since assuming office in May.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Defence Minister Richard Marles and Pacific Minister Pat Conroy have all since visited Honiara.

Mr Marles said he was optimistic about building a new partnership with Honiara under the new government.


Dominic Giannini
(Australian Associated Press)


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