Australian Defence Minister in Solomon Islands for Security Talks

REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier/File Photo
Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles attends a joint news conference with France’s Foreign and Defence ministers at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris, France, January 30, 2023.

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare called for a review of a security treaty with Australia in a meeting with Canberra’s defense minister on Wednesday, his office said, amid growing strategic competition in the region between China and the U.S. and its allies.

Australia’s deputy prime minister and defense minister Richard Marles is on a two-day visit to Solomon Islands for security talks that come as China takes a bigger role in the Pacific nation’s police force.

Sogavare is expected to travel to China next week, he told parliament on Monday.

Marles wrote on Twitter that he had “a productive meeting” with Sogavare, discussing “the deepening partnership between our two countries, including through regional security, infrastructure, labor mobility and health.”

Marles also met members of the Solomon Islands International Assistance Force (SIAF), which includes Australian, Fijian and New Zealand police deployed in 2021 at Sogavare’s request to quell anti-government riots.

Australia is a major aid donor and has a decades-long security relationship with the Solomon Islands. A 2017 security treaty between Australia and Solomon Islands allows Australian police and defense personnel to deploy rapidly to Solomon Islands if the need arises and both countries consent.

China has recently stepped up its funding for infrastructure and last year Sogavare signed a security pact with China, raising concern in Canberra and Washington about Beijing’s naval ambitions in the strategically located region.

Sogavare’s office said he had “conveyed the country’s appreciation to Australia’s on-going support in the area of security” in his meeting with Marles.

“The Prime Minister expressed the need to review the current security treaty between the two countries to take into account the changing security challenges faced by both countries,” a statement said.

Chinese police have taken an increasing role in training and equipping the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force in recent months.

The Solomon Islands is hosting the Pacific Games in Honiara in November. China has funded the regional sporting event and built seven stadiums and other venues and Chinese police have pledged to “continuously support” the Solomon’s police “throughout and after” the event.

“Assessments are still ongoing to determine the security needs during the Games and should there be areas to address, Australia will be notified through appropriate channels,” the statement added.

Sogavare’s office told Reuters details of his China visit were being finalized.