An Australian government minister arrived in the Solomon Islands on Wednesday for talks on a proposed security agreement between the Pacific islands nation and China that Canberra opposes.
Despite a national election campaign putting the Australian government in “caretaker” mode, when ministers traditionally avoid diplomatic engagement with international governments, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja landed in Honiara for two days of meetings with the support of Australia’s main opposition Labor Party.
He said his two-day visit would “further strengthen Australia’s relationship” with the Solomon Islands. “Australia will continue to be a transparent and respectful partner,” Seselja wrote on Twitter after arriving at Honiara’s airport.
I've landed in Honiara to discuss the strong & enduring relationship 🇦🇺 & 🇸🇧 share, from delivering 350,000 vaccines & working with 🇸🇧 in response to COVID19, to our leading development support.
Australia will continue to be a transparent & respectful partner.#StrongerTogether pic.twitter.com/Qxg7TytT6q
— Zed Seselja (@ZedSeselja) April 12, 2022
Officials from China and Solomon Islands have initialled but not yet signed a security pact that Australia, New Zealand, the US and some Pacific islands neighbours have criticised as undermining regional stability.
On Tuesday, a leaked memo surfaced on social media showing the Chinese government had told the Solomon Islands in December it wanted to send a security team of 10 Chinese police with weapons including a sniper rifle, machine guns and electronic listening devices to protect embassy staff in the wake of riots in Honiara in November.
The memo was widely reported by Australian media.
The office of Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare said in a statement the memo was “nothing to be concerned about”.
He confirmed the information was from “leaked documents containing official correspondences between the Solomon Islands Government and the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) Embassy in Honiara”.
A separate leaked draft of a security pact with China last month showed it would allow Chinese police to protect companies and infrastructure, and allow naval vessels to replenish in Honiara.
- Reuters, with additional editing by George Russell