China-Solomons deal crosses a 'very clear line' - Ardern

Source: 1News

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has expressed concern over the recently signed Sino-Solomons security pact, saying the militarisation of the region crosses a "very clear line".

Beijing officially announced it had signed the defence pact on Tuesday, allowing China to send police and armed forces to the island nation and warships to a port off its coast.

The agreement comes in the wake of deadly riots in the Honiara last year, with protesters demanded Solomon Island Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare step down from office.

The riots were primarily in the Chinatown area of the capital and were seen in part as a response to China’s growing influence in the country.

Sogavare said the new security agreement aims to protect Chinese citizens in the event of similar future upheavals.

He said it was “very insulting” for New Zealand and Australia to brand his country as unfit to manage its own sovereign affairs.

READ MORE: Australia: China-Solomons security pact 'foreign policy failure'

But speaking to reporters during her trip to Singapore, Ardern said existing security arrangements with New Zealand and Australia meant there was "simply... no need for this agreement".

"We have been present, we have been on the ground, we have demonstrated an ongoing willingness to support the Solomons.

"We provide that security for all who are present."

The move could see Beijing establish a military presence in the Pacific.

The Prime Minister said there was room for countries like China to collaborate within the Pacific, but the presence of warships would signal a "militarisation of the region [that] is a very clear line".

"We have called for all those within our region... the EU, Japan, and obviously China.

"There are areas where we can collaborate and work together but we must draw lines in areas where we have concerns."

While Ardern acknowledged the Solomon Islands was free to make its own security decisions, she said the pact violates a previous agreement with the Pacific Island Forum.

"Sovereign nations within the Pacific have all been partied to [an] agreement in the Biketawa Declaration… that when it comes to our security needs, we'll work together and raise concerns together.

"Unfortunately this agreement is being signed with us not having the ability as an Island forum, to address this issue.

She said the situation highlights a growing need for New Zealand businesses to build resilience in the face of growing tensions with China, but stopped short of calling for reduced trade with the key market.

"What it means is looking at where there may be potential vulnerabilities, potential disruption, planning for that and as much as possible having an expectation that should they need to pivot, they have already done initial work that allows for them to do that.

"That's for many reasons. Covid demonstrated that at any given time, your market can reduce very very quickly.

"That doesn't necessarily mean that they have to sit down and have a particular amount of exports per market."

Ardern's comments come after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the deal was a sign of growing Chinese influence in the Pacific.

“This is a very serious issue.”

"What this demonstrates is the very real risk... of China seeking to interfere within our region.”

But while both New Zealand and Australia would continue joint efforts to enhance regional security, Morrison said this did not include dictating the affairs of neighbouring nations.

"One of the things we strongly agree on and how we handle this issue within our Pacific family," said Morrison.

"We're siblings, they're not children and adults in that relationship. We treat - we treat the Pacific family as siblings and as family and our view is very much that you don't go around stomping around telling leaders in Pacific Islands what they should and shouldn't do. You work with them respectfully and carefully."