Solomon Islands will not allow a Chinese military base, according to the Prime Minister’s Office

Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavari, addresses the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York, US, September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Amid a regional backlash, the Solomon Islands said it would not allow a Chinese military base to be set up in the Pacific island nation despite its plans to sign a security pact with Beijing.

A day after officials from the two countries initialed a draft agreement on security, the office of Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavari said Friday that the agreement does not call for China to establish a military base.

“The government is aware of the security implications of hosting a military base and will not tolerate such an initiative under its auspices,” a statement said.

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Sugavari has not released details of the security agreement with China, amid concerns raised by a leaked draft that allowed Chinese Navy ships to replenish on the islands. The ministers have not yet signed it.

Asked about the latest comments from the Solomon Islands, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the “starting point” of the security agreement is to protect people’s safety and property security.

“It has no military overtones,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing on Friday.

“Relevant statements and speculations in the media are unfounded.”

Four people were killed during violent anti-government protests, and much of Chinatown in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, was destroyed during violent anti-government protests in November.

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The leader of the Federated States of Micronesia on Thursday urged the Solomon Islands not to sign the security pact, saying he had “serious security concerns” and feared the Pacific could become embroiled in a war between China and the United States. Read more

New Zealand has also warned about the agreement, which it says could upset long-running regional security cooperation. Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said on Friday he respected Sugavari’s view but urged caution.

Dutton said in an interview with Sky News that China has set up 20 points of military presence in the South China Sea despite telling the United States that it will not militarize the region, and Canberra fears Beijing is on a similar path in the Pacific islands.

They want a military port in Papua New Guinea [Papua New Guinea]. They have one in Sri Lanka, and they’re obviously looking elsewhere where they can put it.”

China offered to redevelop a naval base in Papua New Guinea in 2018, but Australia’s closest northern neighbor decided to have Australia develop the base instead.

A Chinese state company operates the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota under a 99-year lease, although Sri Lanka has previously said the port cannot be used for Chinese military purposes.

Dutton said that a Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands will prompt Australia to significantly increase its military presence in the region because the islands are so close to Australia.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the security pact between the Solomon Islands and China would undermine stability in the region.

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“We don’t think there is a need for countries outside the Pacific family to have a security role,” she said on local radio Friday.

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(Reporting by Kirsty Needham). Additional reporting by Martin Quinn Pollard in Beijing. Editing by Jerry Doyle and Simon Cameron Moore

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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