Police in the Solomon Islands say they’ll be taking a “zero-tolerance” policy to any violence as the country’s parliament sits for the first time since last year’s deadly riots.
The November unrest in Honiara was partly seen as a response to China’s growing influence in the country, following the Government’s move in 2019 to sever ties with Taiwan and align with China.
Chinese businesses were targeted and some buildings burnt down, and news of a draft security arrangement with Beijing late last week has only added to tension as parliament sits on Monday.
The Solomon Islands has also been battling a significant Covid-19 outbreak since January that has overwhelmed the health system.
The official document, which details the ability of Chinese ships to visit the country and for the Solomon Islands government to “request China to send police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces to Solomon Islands to assist in maintaining social order”, has sparked concern across the Pacific.
Director of the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies at Canterbury University Professor Steven Ratuva says the agreement will likely “make the geopolitical dynamics in the Pacific even more tense in the long run”.
The Solomon Islands government has confirmed its intentions to strengthen its partnership with China, while opposition leader Matthew Wale says he warned Australian officials this deal could be on the way as early as August last year.
“All the indications were there and the Australian government did nothing about it, so I’m extremely disappointed in the Australian government,” the Democratic Party leader told the ABC.
Read more: Leaked agreement points to growing Chinese influence in Solomons
On Friday, New Zealand’s foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said the security agreement with China “could destabilise the current institutions and arrangements that have long underpinned the Pacific region’s security”.
“New Zealand’s High Commissioner in Honiara is raising our concerns with the Solomon Islands Government and we will also be raising our concerns directly with China,” she said in a statement.
New Zealand and Australia have traditionally provided security support to Honiara, and officials from both countries will be on hand today assisting the Solomon Islands police to keep the peace.
The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) has been preparing for today’s sitting for weeks; posting photos on social media of officers training with firearms and shields.
“People involved in activities such as rioting, looting and unlawful assemblies will be held to account by the justice system of the Solomon Islands,” a statement from the RSIPF read.
“There will be a zero-tolerance policy to instigators of violence or unrest.”
An international group of military and police troops from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea will “provide security, protection and a response capability to any unrest” over the coming months, the RSIPF said.
Parliament’s sitting to pass this year’s provincial budget.