Solomon Islands PM says won't accept militarisation of Pacific

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare attends a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare attends a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 9, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

SYDNEY, April 29 (Reuters) - The Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China because a similar deal with Australia was inadequate, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said, adding his country knew the cost of war and would not be part of any militarisation of the Pacific.

Addressing parliament on Friday, Sogavare made his first public comments since talks with White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell, who visited Hoinara days after the security pact with China was announced.

China's attempts to extend its military influence in the Pacific have put Western allies on guard, and the security pact with the Solomons has roiled the Australian election campaign. read more

While details of the pact with China have not been disclosed, Sogavare has ruled out a military base and said it covers domestic policing.

Sogavare said on Friday the security agreement with China was needed because an agreement with traditional partner Australia was "inadequate".

Opposition parties have criticised the government's secrecy over the terms of the pact with Beijing, and Western allies are concerned that it could provide a gateway for a Chinese military presence. read more

Australia and New Zealand have warned the pact could upset long standing regional security cooperation. read more

Sogavare said Campbell and a separate Japanese delegation had warned him against allowing China to build a naval base because it was not in the region's interests. Sogavare, who has previously said that there were no such plans, said he agreed with the delegations. read more

"We don't need to be reminded of the cost of war," Sogavare told parliament.

He said the Solomon Islands would never accept the militarisation of the Pacific after what it experienced in World War Two, and criticised the United States for failing to include the islands in funding for post-war reconstruction.

Campbell had agreed to speed up the removal of unexploded World War Two ordnance, Sogavare said.

Echoing comments made by China's foreign ministry, Sogavare also criticised Australia's signing of the AUKUS defence alliance with the United States and Britain last year without consulting Pacific island nations.

"The AUKUS treaty will see nuclear submarines in Pacific waters. I learnt of the AUKUS treaty in the media. One would expect that as a member of the Pacific family, Solomon Islands... would have been consulted."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters on Friday he spoke to Sogavare the day after the announcement of AUKUS and he had not raised any objections.

Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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