Shipment company

Shipment of fake weapons to Solomon Islands shakes locals amid ‘climate of insecurity’

The ambiguous wording of the draft security agreement has raised questions about whether further unrest could give China a pretext to step up operations in the Solomons.

“Discomfort and insecurity”

Matthew Wale, the leader of the opposition party in Solomon Islands’ parliament, told The New York Times he feared the “very broad, sweeping and vague” deal could be used for anything.

Dr Anna Powles, a Pacific expert at Massey University in New Zealand, said the lack of transparency around the shipment of fake firearms pointed to the natural conclusion that police were “training with replica guns. ‘weapons to perfect the true version’.

She added: “The leak of the draft security co-operation agreement is occurring amid considerable unease and insecurity.”

Dr Powles predicted heated debate over the proposed arrangement and national and regional pressure to water it down, but said: ‘If it comes into force in its current form it will be an absolute game-changer. It has the potential to degrade and disrupt security in the Pacific Islands region.

New Zealand and Australia, traditionally the Solomons’ main security partner, issued statements on Friday opposing the proposed deal with Beijing. Both are wary of any measure that could allow China to cut off key supply lines to Asia and the Pacific in the event of a conflict.

Dr Euan Graham, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore, said the leak confirmed the suspicions “China has serious intentions of gaining military access to the South Pacific, via some sort of arrangement that allows logistical support for PLA ships, aircraft and military personnel.”

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s government appears to be “trying to play Canberra against Beijing in order to maximize its material benefits”, he said. “It’s a dangerous game for small island states.”