New Zealand’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta said they are committed to stability in the Solomon Islands as she announced the appointment of Jonathan Schwass as the new high commissioner to Solomon Islands.
The New Zealand government’s change in diplomatic role comes soon after the confirmation of a security pact between the Solomon Islands and China.
In announcing the appointment of Mr Schwass, Ms Mahuta said New Zealand and Solomon Islands have a long history of close engagement as ‘Pacific whanau’ (family).
“Our partnership is founded on cooperation in areas such as education and youth, economic diversification, and provincial connectivity,” Ms Mahuta said.
“We are also committed to our people to people links through the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme, scholarships programme and our work alongside the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.
“Mr Schwass has previously served as Deputy High Commissioner to Solomon Islands and his breadth of experience across the Pacific will be vital in strengthening our relationship even further.
“Alongside our Pacific neighbours, New Zealand remains committed to supporting stability in Solomon Islands and promoting a peaceful and secure Pacific region. We know ensuring strong diplomatic relationships is more important than ever as we continue to address the need for cooperation and cohesion across the region.
“Together our countries will continue to work together to weather the profound challenges that face our region, as we have through COVID-19 and last year’s unrest in Honiara. Mr Schwass is well placed to represent New Zealand in this work.”
Mr Schwass was most recently unit manager in the climate change division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and recently returned from four years as High Commissioner to Vanuatu. He has also served as Ambassador to Timor-Leste and Deputy High Commissioner to Solomon Islands.
Mr Schwass takes up his position in May.
A change in tune
The China-Solomon Islands security pact has made countries like New Zealand, Australia and the United States feel uneasy, and they have expressed concerns over this.
New Zealand’s aid to the Solomon Islands may not be as much as Australia but it remains a key partner with the island nation.
Just last month, Ms Mahuta said the security arrangement with China was unwelcome and unnecessary and should be open to regional scrutiny.
She had said she was saddened the Solomons chose to pursue a security agreement outside the region.
Such comments including those from politicians in Australia led to a stern message from the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare.
He told Australia and New Zealand to stop treating the Pacific Island nations as kindergarten children and stop referring to them as their backyard.
Meanwhile China’s Foreign Ministry has responded to comments made by Australian and New Zealand politicians.
The Ministry said the security pact with the Solomon Islands was parallel with and not in conflict with the existing regional security cooperation arrangements.
“Solomon Islands and South Pacific islands are not the ‘backyard’ of any country,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“China is a direct stakeholder in the security of the South Pacific region. China has no selfish interests in the South Pacific, does not seek ‘spheres of influence’ or engage in bullying and coercion, and will unswervingly advance practical cooperation with South Pacific island countries in various fields.”