Australia offers to extend deployment of troops, police in Solomon Islands

Gina Maka’a
Honiara, Solomon Islands
Australia offers to extend deployment of troops, police in Solomon Islands Jimmie Rogers (left), secretary to Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, listens as Australia’s Minister of Defense and deputy prime minister Richard Marles [center] speaks at a press conference at King George School on June 29, 2023 in Honiara, Solomon Islands.
Gina Maka’a/BenarNews

Australia has offered to extend its military and police deployment in the Solomon Islands as the Pacific island country, which has cultivated security and economic ties with China, prepares to host a regional sporting event later this year and hold postponed elections in the first half of 2024.

Australian Minister of Defense Richard Marles, who met with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare during a two-day visit to the Pacific country, said on Thursday that Australia was willing to provide security assistance for as long as necessary. 

Australia sent more than 200 troops and police to the Solomon Islands in late 2021 at the request of Sogavare following anti-China and anti-government riots in the capital Honiara. Fiji, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand also contributed to the security mission.

“We spoke about the Solomons International Assistance Force, of which Australia is a contributing member, and we made it clear that if it was the Solomons’ wish for the Solomons International Assistance Force to continue then Australia stood ready for that to occur,” Marles, who is also Australia’s deputy prime minister, told reporters in Honiara.  

“We are happy to support a continuation of the presence of SIAF in supporting the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force,” he said. 

The Solomon Islands, home to some 700,000 people, has become a focal point for the U.S.-China rivalry in the Pacific. Sogavare’s government switched its diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 2019 and signed a security pact with Beijing last year that alarmed the United States and allies such as Australia. 

A statement from Sogavare’s office said assessments of security needs for the Pacific Games, which will be held in Honiara in November, are still being carried out. “Should there be areas to address, Australia will be notified through appropriate channels,” it said.

The statement also said the security treaty between Australia and the Solomon Islands should be reviewed to take into account the changing security challenges faced by both countries. It called for “more support to strengthen our capacity and capability to respond to internal security challenges.”

marles dock.jpg
Australia’s Minister of Defense and deputy prime minister Richard Marles (second from right) talks to Australian Defense Advisor Col. Justin Bywater (right) while Solomon Islands Commissioner of Police Mostyn Mangau (second from left) looks on in Honiara on June 29, 2023. [Gina Maka’a/BenarNews]

Both China and Australia have been providing training and equipment to the Solomon Islands police, including weapons, sparking concern their rivalry could cause new instability in a South Pacific country that spiraled into chaos only two decades ago.

Several years of instability around the turn of the century, fueled by stolen police equipment, still looms large for Solomon Islanders, who call the period The Tensions. Corruption, ethnic strife and political divides made the country seem ungovernable and culminated in an Australian-led military intervention from 2003 until 2017.

Last November, China handed over two water cannon trucks, 30 motorbikes and 20 white utility vehicles emblazoned with the red China Aid logo to Solomon Islands police while Australia donated 60 MK18 rifles and 13 vehicles, some of which will be used in a new mobile protection unit for VIPs.  

Solomon Islands police said in May that some 30 officers were undergoing advanced capability training in China on top of 33 officers who received training at the Fujian Police College last year. It said further contingents would receive leadership and capability training in China this year and that the China Police Liaison Team in Honiara would continue its training programs in the Solomon Islands.

Marles said a peaceful security environment for the Pacific Games – which China, Australia, Indonesia and other countries are helping to bankroll – and elections next year are key objectives of the Solomon Islands government. 

Sogavare’s government postponed the elections, which were due this year, citing the cost of hosting the Pacific Games.

“We are very mindful that an ongoing SIAF [presence] could be an assistance to Solomon Islands and we certainly made it clear that we would be ready to provide that if Solomon Islands want it,” Marles said.

Marles’ visit to the Solomon Islands also resulted in pledges of assistance including a previously announced grant of 25 million Australian dollars ($16.5 million) to pay for the Solomons’ 2024 general election, provision of small fast vessels for the Solomon Islands police and help to upgrade a shipyard.

Before leaving the Solomon Islands on Thursday afternoon, Marles officially opened a new critical care unit at the country’s main hospital that was funded by Australia.


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