SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Solomon Islands' decision to sign a security pact with China will not hurt or undermine peace and harmony in the region, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told Parliament on Wednesday (April 20).
Sogavare confirmed the pact had been signed by foreign ministers from the two countries, a day after China announced the signing at a regular news briefing in Beijing.
The move, days before a White House delegation is to arrive in Honiara, has heightened concerns in the United States and Australia about the potential for a Chinese military presence less than 2,000km from Australia.
In Parliament, Mr Sogavare asked friends, partners and neighbours to respect the country’s sovereign interests.
Solomon Islands lawmakers urged Mr Sogavare to publicly disclose the terms of the security pact.
"I ask all our neighbours, friends and partners to respect the sovereign interests of the Solomon Islands on the assurance that the decision will not adversely impact or undermine the peace and harmony of our region," Mr Sogavare said.
He added the security cooperation with China was not directed at any countries or external alliances, "rather at our own internal security situation".
The Solomon Islands will "beef up" its police capacity so its own force can deal with incidents such as the November riots that saw buildings torched and lives lost, he said.
"Let me assure the people of the Solomon Islands that we entered into an arrangement with China with our eyes wide open guided by our national interests," Mr Sogavare said.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in the middle of a national election campaign, has been criticised by the opposition Labor party over what they call the largest diplomatic failure in the Pacific since World War II.
Opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese said that it was clear "relationships have broken down" between Australia and Sogavare, and that the Morrison government should have been engaging more deeply for longer.
Australia has traditionally provided policing support to Honiara, a Pacific island neighbour, under a bilateral security treaty signed in 2017, and an earlier regional policing mission.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the Labor criticism did not recognise the Solomon Islands had made a sovereign decision, and that Australia’s Minister for International Development and Pacific Zed Seselja had met with Mr Sogavare last week to urge him not to sign the pact with China.