A leading security expert has questioned the Solomon Islands Prime Minister’s latest claim that Australia remains the country’s top security partner over China.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare would not be able to withstand any pressure from Beijing, according to Malcolm Davis from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).
“I don’t think Sogavare’s going to have the ability to resist any pressure from China because he’s dependent on Chinese money to stay in power,” Davis told AAP in Canberra on Oct. 10.
“They came in with suitcases of money to ensure that he and the people around him would support an extension of his position, his role as prime minister.”
An Australian Broadcasting Corporation investigation published in August found that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) gave A$3 million to ruling party lawmakers in the Solomon Islands last year, without any explanation as to what the money was for.
The comments from Davis come after Sogavare visited Australia and met with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Canberra on Oct. 6, with no joint press conference held.
“As proud Pacific nations, Australia and Solomon Islands have a deep and enduring history underpinned by strong people-to-people links and shared democratic values,” reads a joint statement after the talks.
“Prime Minister Sogavare and Prime Minister Albanese reaffirmed mutual security commitments and the Pacific family first approach to regional peace and security.”
“Prime Minister Sogavare welcomed Australia’s $16.68 million commitment to support the 2023 Pacific Games and offer to support the next Solomon Islands’ election.”
Australia’s Election Funding Offer Used To Destabilise Bilateral Relations
Sogavare has successfully delayed the Solomon Islands’ national elections that were scheduled for September, extending his term as Prime Minister.
The pro-Beijing prime minister said the reasoning for the delay was due to his government’s inability to afford the election at the same time as the Pacific Games, due in late 2023.
In response to the claim, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the Australian government would be happy to fund the election.
Sogavare first responded by calling the offer “foreign interference” and an “assault” on the Solomons’ democracy. However, he said he would accept the offer anyway.
“Now they’ve offered, so get ready, brother, to fund the costs. It’s a big cost, Mr. Speaker, the Electoral Commission needs a lot of money,” he said. “Then you offer, you should prepare to give the money you said you wanted to give us.”
Wong’s move was criticised as “playing into Sogavare’s hands” to help him distract public attention.
“When it comes at a time like this, that just gives Sogavare ammunition to get angry and to distract the Solomon Islands public from the actual internal issues,” Blake Johnson, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told The Examiner.
“He’s managed to shift what the public is talking about now to whether or not Australia should be funding elections, which is not the initial problem that Solomon Islands was facing.”
Security Agreement Will Result in a Chinese Base
Meanwhile, Davis believes that while Sogavare is trying to maintain close ties with both countries, he is ultimately dependent on Beijing.
“I don’t see how we can take this assurance that we’re the security partner of choice seriously when he signed that security agreement with China,” he told AAP.
“He signed a security agreement with China that will ultimately give China a base in the Solomons.”
The contentious security pact signed between Solomon Island and the CCP, which was officially confirmed in April, has caused strong concerns about the communist regime’s influence in the pacific.
Both the United States and Australia showed deep concerns over the deal despite Prime Minister Sogavare’s commitment that the Solomon Islands will never be used for military bases or other military institutions of foreign powers.
Beijing ‘Suppressing the Truth and Spreading Lies’: Report
Davis’ comments come amid ASPI’s latest finding that Beijing spread false information during the protests that rocked Solomon Island’s last year.
According to a report published on Oct. 5, titled “Suppressing the Truth and Spreading Lies: How the CCP is influencing Solomon Islands’ information environment,” the CCP pushed a “fabricated narrative” about Australia, the United States, and Taiwan, instigating riots in the Solomon Islands during mass protests in its capital in November 2021.
“That narrative was pushed through party-state media (both in English and in Chinese) through statements from Chinese officials that were shared by the Chinese Embassy, published in local media outlets, and quoted by local journalists,” reads the report.
David Yeau-Tarn Lee, an adjunct professor at the Graduate Institute of Development Studies of National Chengchi University in Taiwan, agreed with Davis that the Solomon Islands can hardly resist pressure from Beijing.
“What a good relationship the Solomon Islands [used to] have with Australia!” Lee previously told The Epoch Times. “But no matter how good you treat it, the CCP would bribe [its officials].”
“It’d be inevitable for Australia to face the consequence of [the CCP’s] dangerous expansion,” he said.
“So I think Australia needs to awaken further. It plays an important role in the confrontation between liberal democracy and autocracy.”
Daniel Y. Teng contributed to this article.