The security of Pacific nations is interlinked and the Pacific family is more than capable of dealing with the needs of each other’s security, said Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong after concluding meetings with the Solomon Islands government.
Ms Wong met with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in Honiara and on the list of things discussed was security in the region.
The China-Solomon deal had raised eyebrows but a reassurance has been given by Mr Sogavare, that the deal does not encompass what has been speculated in terms of military bases and imminent foreign military presence.
“The Pacific family should be responsible for our security and the Pacific family is more than capable of providing that security,” Ms Wong told reporters.
She has hinted at a possible similar deal as China has done but not much was revealed.
For the Solomon Islands, the deal with China was struck because of the nation’s inability to deal with riots and civil unrest.
The Chinese deal allows the Solomon Islands to call for assistance from Chinese police if such a situation did arise.
From 2003 to 2017, Australian police had been present in the Solomon Islands under RAMSI. It looks certain now that capacity was not built for the Solomon Islands police force during this time.
This was evident during Ms Wong’s visit as Fijian soldiers based in Honiara after the riots were involved in security operations for the visit.
It may not be disclosed just as yet, but there is a feeling that the Solomon Islands could see the return of a similar mission such as RAMSI.
Ms Wong said she had good discussions with Mr Sogavare and key things discussed were regional security, climate change, education, COVID assistance and the Pacific Labour Mobility scheme.
Ms Wong also announced an additional 200,000 doses pediatric vaccines for children up to the age of five years.
She said Australia wanted to help children return to school.
In light of recent geopolitical pressures, the Pacific have truly united through the Pacific Islands Forum.
Australia who is a Forum partner has seen this as a one up against the Chinese influence into the region.
A day before the Solomons visit, Ms Wong was in New Zealand. In a joint press conference, she said conversations with her Kiwi counterpart Nanaia Mahuta included discussions on the architecture of the Forum.
She said it was good to see a united Pacific Islands Forum.
Her trip to New Zealand was to reaffirm the close relationship the two nations had shared.
In all of her trips, Ms Wong has always emphasised Australia’s renewed commitment towards climate change including legislating changes that work towards a more renewable energy focused Australia.
Pacific Penny’s big offer to Solomons – 17 June 2022
Australia is likely to offer the Solomon Islands a similar deal to China, to maintain internal security as Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong makes her third Pacific trip.
Ms Wong will be the first Australian leader to visit the country since the China-Solomon security deal hit the headlines.
Australia has provided internal security under the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) since 2003.
This was done to maintain peace and order in the Solomon Islands where civil unrests due to political differences were becoming very common.
But from 2013, in recognition of the improved security environment, RAMSI’s military component the Combined Task Force was withdrawn.
The participating police force also stepped back from frontline everyday policing and withdrew personnel from most provincial police posts.
On June 30, 2017, the mission was officially over.
In November 2021, Honiara was once again gripped in violence as buildings were burnt, and people killed and injured. The devastation coupled with the impacts of COVID-19 had shattered the Solomon Island’s economy.
Ms Wong had been critical of the way Australia had handled the Solomon Island situation in the first place.
She said the previous government had failed to foster relationships with the Pacific, leading to a fallout.
“On Friday, I will visit Solomon Islands, where I will meet Prime Minister the Manasseh Sogavare and a number of his Cabinet ministers. I also look forward to engaging with the local community, including women leaders,” she stated.
“We are committed to deepening our cooperation with Solomon Islands, as we work together to face shared challenges and achieve our shared goals, including on climate change.
“I look forward to discussing the ways we can continue to make progress on pandemic recovery, economic development and labour mobility priorities, and addressing our shared security interests.”
In this past week, the Solomon Islands have gone on record as saying the nation needed the China security deal to ensure sustainable development.
Solomon Islands permanent secretary for foreign affairs Colin Beck has said that the Solomon Islands faces domestic challenges, including a population growing at a faster rate than the economy can support.
He said the security deal which allows the Solomon Islands government to ask China for security assistance to maintain social order would be a last resort option.
The Solomon Islands government said the security deal was needed to address other urgent issues which could hinder the development of the nation and have serious repercussions on its people.
For this reason, Ms Wong will definitely be talking about the possible resumption of RAMSI or a similar mission.