Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has declared he wants China to play a permanent role training police in his country and flagged a substantial new donation of police vehicles and equipment from Beijing.
- Mr Sogavare says he wants to “elevate” joint training arrangements
- It is unclear if that would lead to a permanent Chinese police presence in Honiara
- China also donated 22 police vehicles, 30 motorcycles, two police water cannons, eight police drones and protective gear
It is another sign that he is intent on intensifying security ties with the emerging power.
On Friday last week, Mr Sogavare attended a graduation ceremony for Royal Solomon Islands Police Force members who had received riot control training from Chinese police.
Australia has always been the major provider of police training in the Solomon Islands, and senior Australian officials have publicly expressed their unease about China’s growing police cooperation with Honiara, warning that Beijing might inflame tensions by encouraging local officers to use more confrontational and violent tactics.
Australia has also been deeply alarmed by a broader security pact signed by Solomon Islands and China, fearing it could allow Beijing to establish a military presence in the country down the track.
Pictures posted by the Chinese Embassy in Honiara have shown Chinese police trainers teaching Solomon Islands police how to use riot control gear and replica guns, while Solomon Islands Police Minister Anthony Veke has flagged China may also establish a new training center for local officers.
Mr Sogavare told the graduation ceremony he would also like China to play a permanent police training role.
“Going forward I would like to see a more permanent arrangement in place that is not only reactionary to certain situations, but one that is forward-looking in identifying gaps and addressing these gaps before these gaps are exposed by situations such as the November riots, “he said.
“I think it is prudent that Solomon Islands and the People’s Republic of China start discussion on how we can elevate the current joint training arrangement to a more permanent arrangement with clearly defined expected outcomes which aim at ensuring that [police] have capability in the long term. “
Mr Sogovare did not specify if that would involve a permanent Chinese police presence in Honiara.
China donates vehicles and drones
A small team of Chinese police trainers has been in Solomon Islands for several months, although it’s not clear if they will remain in the country now the round of training has been completed.
Mr Sogavare also flagged a new donation of police cars, motorcycles and drones from China.
“Ambassador Li Ming, I also acknowledge and appreciate the 22 police vehicles, 30 motorcycles, two police water cannons, eight police drones and advanced CPP (close personal protection) equipment, which are valued at $ SBD22 million ($ 3.97 million) that will arrive in the country soon, “he said.
Solomon Islands has been plagued by riots and disorder over the last three decades.
Australia led a multi-national force that restored order in 2003, and sent a smaller deployment of police officers and troops in November last year when Honiara was rocked by a fresh outbreak of looting and rioting.
While the deployment of Australian police quickly calmed the situation in Honiara, Mr Sogavare has since repeatedly accused Australia of refusing to protect Chinatown and projects funded by the Chinese government.
Australian officials have repeatedly and forcefully rejected that assertion, saying it is unreasonable to blame Australia for the devastation in Chinatown because the damage was done before Australian forces landed in Honiara.
But Mr Sogavare again made it clear at the graduation ceremony that he no longer wants to depend on Australia, New Zealand or other Pacific nations to guarantee security in Solomon Islands, and said he was determined to improve the capacity of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force with China’s help.
“If we achieve such capability, we will not have to depend on other countries to assist us to deal with our internal threats,” Mr Sogavare said.
“Let me repeat that as a sovereign country we cannot continue to depend on other countries to look after us. We must have the capability to address our internal threats.”
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