China, Solomon Islands sign policing pact in upgrade of ties
PHOTO CAPTION: Flags of Solomon Islands and China flutter near the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing, China July 11, 2023. REUTERS/Florence Lo
BEIJING (Reuters) -China and the Solomon Islands on Monday signed a deal on police cooperation as part of an upgrade of their relations to a "comprehensive strategic partnership", four years after the Pacific nation switched ties from Taiwan to China.
The police cooperation pact was among nine deals signed after Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare met with Chinese Premier Li Qiang in Beijing, underlining his nation's foreign policy shift.
Sogavare arrived in China on Sunday for his first visit since the two countries struck a security pact last year, to the alarm of the United States and neighbours including Australia.
"In just four years, the relationship between China and the Solomon Islands has developed rapidly, and we can now say that it is very fruitful," Li told Sogavare.
Sogavare, in turn, thanked China for its role in addressing global challenges including peace and sustainable development. He added that his country had "a lot to learn" from China's experience.
A spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council said Washington "respects the ability of nations to make sovereign decisions in the best interests of their people" while encouraging the sides "to release these texts immediately to increase transparency and inform discussions about the impacts of these agreements on regional security."
The official added that the U.S. was committed to a strong relationship with the region and strengthening longstanding bonds with the people of Solomon Islands.
Sogavare switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing when he came to power in 2019. Beijing claims democratically governed Taiwan as part of its own territory.
Last month, Sogavare called for a review of a 2017 security treaty with Australia, which has historically provided policing support to the Solomon Islands, including the rapid deployment of police in 2021 to quell riots, although China has increased its police training there.
China will continue to provide assistance to the Solomon Islands to enhance its law enforcement capacity, according to a joint statement released by China's official Xinhua news agency.
It urged "relevant countries" to "prudently" handle issues such as the discharge of nuclear-contaminated water into the sea and cooperation on nuclear submarines, in a thinly veiled swipe at Japan and AUKUS, the alliance among Australia, the United States and Britain.
Sogavare also met China's President Xi Jinping on Monday afternoon and the two agreed to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership, according to Chinese state television.
"China and Pacific island countries are both developing countries and should strengthen mutual assistance within the framework of South-South cooperation," Xi said in the meeting.
China has long supported so-called South-South cooperation, which refers to cooperation between developing nations as equals for mutual benefit.
Describing the two countries as "trustworthy friends and reliable brothers", Xi said China-Solomon Islands ties have set a "good example of solidarity and cooperation" between countries of different sizes and between developing nations.
Xi told Sogavare China supports more of its firms investing in the Solomon Islands and will continue to provide economic and technical assistance "without political strings attached".
Sogavare's office highlighted "quality infrastructure" as an area that the country needs for economic empowerment to eradicate poverty.
Chinese telecoms giant Huawei is already building a cellular network in the Solomon Islands, financed by a $66 million Chinese EXIM bank loan. A Chinese state company will also redevelop the port in the capital Honiara.
Xi also pledged support for a 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, referring to a grand blueprint agreed among Pacific nations on advancing the region's strategic goals over the next three decades.
The two countries also reached agreements in civil aviation, trade, economy, technology and sports, including a deal on "Sports Technical Assistance Project" as Honiara is hosting the Pacific Games in November. China has constructed the stadium.
Sogavare will be in China until Saturday and will officially open his country's embassy in Beijing.
(Reporting by Ethan Wang, Ella Cao and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Additional reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Robert Birsel, Mark Heinrich and Lincoln Feast.)