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 Chinaā€™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.

Australiaā€™s support for the police force would help the Solomons ā€œreduce its reliance on external partnersā€, 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 ā€œwell placed to meet the security needs of our regionā€, Mr Albanese said during a joint press conference with his counterpart on Wednesday.

ā€œWe regard security as the job of our Pacific family.ā€

Heeding that ā€œI hear you very clearly in terms of Australiaā€™s interests, in terms of Australiaā€™s concerns with regards to securityā€, Mr Manele suggested China may yet play a role with domestic security as ā€œallotment will continue to be a challengeā€.

Security was intertwined with development, Mr Manele said, but he acknowledged ā€œour partners ā€“ China and Australia ā€“ they have security strategic interests as wellā€.

ā€œOur security partnerships, including with China, is domestically focused. We are trying to address internal security challenges,ā€ he said.

ā€œIn our case, we see security through a development lens ā€¦ itā€™s important for us to work with all our partners to address these development challenges going forward.ā€

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

Australia is open to a ā€œstronger and deeper partnership with the Solomon Islands in accordance with their prioritiesā€ 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 Solomonsā€™ 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 ā€œan abiding friendship that must always continue between our two nationsā€, 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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