The controversial Solomon Islands-China security deal that caught the Western world off guard was necessary to maintain internal security and help tackle climate change, a senior Solomon Islands official has said, defending the right of his country to choose his allies.
Speaking to the Guardian in his first interview since the China-Solomon Islands deal leaked, Collin Beck, the Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs and senior Solomon Islands government official, also said Australia should question whether he had been “fair” to Solomon Islands in his scrutiny of the deal.
Beck, who is believed to have been involved in brokering the deal with China, offered one of the most comprehensive defenses by a Solomon government official to date, saying the deal was designed to meet the needs development of the Pacific nation and to respond to “domestic security threats”.
Beck said the Solomon Islands faced national challenges, including population growth at a rate faster than the economy could sustain. “When we look at the security vulnerability of the country, you know, we have a youth population, about 18,000 young people looking for jobs every year.”
Chronic unemployment, along with frustrations over the policies and leadership of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, are believed to be behind the riots in Honiara last year that left three people dead.
The draft agreement, leaked in March, allows the Solomon Islands to call on China to send “police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement ” in the country for various reasons, including “the maintenance of social order” and “the protection of life and life of people”. property.” Opposition politicians have raised concerns over Solomon Islands’ use of Chinese armed police and military personnel to stifle democratic dissent and retain power.
But Beck said these were only last resort measures. “At all costs, we should never, ever trigger any of the security deals,” he said.
He reiterated that despite international concerns, the Solomon Islands had no intention of allowing China to establish a permanent military presence in the country. “It has nothing to do with establishing a military base,” he said.
Concerns were raised after the draft agreement contained a provision allowing China to “visit ships, carry out logistical resupply and make stopovers and transitions in the Solomon Islands”.
Beck added that focusing on the security deal with China rather than the causes of instability in the country was tantamount to focusing on the “fire station” the country turned to for help in the event of a disaster. rather than the causes of the fire.
“What we should be talking about is actually preventing the fire,” he said. “Security and development are two sides of the same coin. We must now tackle our development agenda… Solomon Islands, first and foremost, is a small island developing state, its vulnerability to climate change is real.
In recent years, the Solomon Islands has lost five islands to sea level rise. The islands were all vegetated reef islands of significant size.
“We are basically heading towards 2.7 at three degrees [of global heating]. More than three degrees. What does it mean? This basically means the sinking of many of our islands, the impact on the economy, the impact on tourism, the impact on fishing, etc. So when you look at – even for climate change alone – more partnership is needed, not less partnership. ”
Beck also suggested that the intense international attention the deal had provoked was unwarranted.
“Nobody really looks at other treaties that exist in the region. The question is why?” he said.
“We have various alliances that exist in the Pacific that are talking about the Pacific but the Pacific is not in the room,” he said, listing the Quad group between the United States, Australia, the India and Japan, and Five Eyes intelligence sharing. alliance of Canada, New Zealand, Australia, United States and United Kingdom.
“In international relations, one thing that is really important is equality and fairness. So if it’s good for others to do it, to ensure the national security interest, then if we’re doing the same and we’ve been vetted like we are, we really need to step back and say: [they] to be fair with the Solomon Islands in Australia?
“I think we took our eyes off the big picture. So it’s important for us to try to examine the fact that we’ve always made it clear all the time that the security arrangements we have with China are similar. We already have a security treaty with Australia. We also have a regional [security] framework … in the Pacific”.
The text of the final agreement was not released despite strong pressure from opposition MPs and the media. Asked if the government would make the deal public, Beck said: “It’s actually between two governments, it’s actually between the two states. So if the issue of making it public, that will be a matter between the two governments to consider. »
He added that the agreement was based on equality, respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of each country.
“I just want to say that the security cooperation we have with China also respects the nuclear-free Pacific of the Solomon Islands.”
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