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We need to diversify the country’s relationship with our partners: PM Sogavare

The country needs to diversify relationships with its partners in moving forward to achieve its security needs says Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
Prime Minister Sogavare said the country’s security approach is not done in a vacuum, and not without due consideration with all its partners.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. Photo Courtesy of Darren England/AAP

“The country’s traditional security partners are always important to and will remain so. But in moving forward to achieve our security needs, it is clear that we need to diversify the country’s relationship with our partners,” he said. 

Delivering his statement on the ‘Security Treaty’ with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Sogavare says it is sad that political perceptions are drawing conclusions to “our” security interests as being insensitive to external issues.

The Draft Security Cooperation Agreement was leaked on social media last week and has stirred headlines locally and in the international media purporting China to build a military base in Solomon Islands.

“We are now having these discussions because some lunatics and agents of foreign regimes in the government system have no regard for secrecy,” the Prime Minister says.

Discussing its policy rationale, Sogavare says the government’s good intention is questioned.

“I need to inform the house also that since the leakage of the document, I had communicated with leaders of the Pacific, including Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Australia to explain the matter. I want to make it abundantly clear that Solomon Islands security arrangement with Australia remains intact,” he says.

He said it is interesting to note the fact that some people believe that there are countries, small independent sovereign states like Solomon Islands should not extend their diplomatic relations to include security arrangements, because that is a threat to national security while they enjoy such relationships. 

“We find that very difficult to swallow, because it strikes at the underlying principles of our Foreign Policy of; Friends to All, and Enemies to None. We find it very insulting to be branded as unfit to manage our sovereign affairs while have other motives of pursuing our national interests.         

“It is sad that political perceptions are drawing conclusions to our security interests as being insensitive to external issues. 

“We are now having these discussions because some lunatics and agents of foreign regimes in the government system have no regard for secrecy,” he says.

Sogavare said the security treaty is pursued at the request of Solomon Islands Government, we are not pressured in any way by our new friends and there is no intention whatsoever to ask China to build a military base in Solomon Islands.

“We are insulted by such unfounded stories and courage to take prominence in the current debate because it helps promote the ideologies we just discussed.”

The Prime Minister said media commentary responses on this are based on what they think the treaty is all about which is not. Sogavare reiterated this is a typical example of the kind of misinformation that are deliberately circulated by people who have been wired without thinking to have a biased view on issues that have two sides of the arguments to it. 

“We need to have some liberal thinking to understand the complexity of the issues we are talking about. We are aware that critical security areas interests have been highlighted, but our government is focused on  our national interest and will always ensure our sovereignty is intact.

“I’m happy to say areas that have been in a dilemma in the past have been addressed through our broad cooperation, and we hope that our development partners can work collaboratively with the Solomon Islands Police Force and our enforcement agencies,” he said.

In doing so, Sogavare says the country can achieve the intent of its security strategy. He adds, a treaty that is development-focused is welcoming as most of the country’s security needs will require incremental plan to improve whether it be infrastructure, training or capacity building but it has to be on “our” terms.

“Our security strategy is part of the wider regional Pacific Island Forum declaration of the Pacific, and in the spirit of regionalism and development. We seek cooperation and understanding in our security development needs, especially in view of a broader security space,” he further explained. 

Sogavare said the Government asked the Australian Government in 2017 for a naval base in the Shortlands, but the response was that it was not possible and that it would be inappropriate given Australia’s defense program with Papua New Guinea.

Just last week, Prime Minister Sogavare said he received a letter from the Prime Minister of Australia offering to build another Patrol boat base in Temotu.

“I was extremely grateful for this offer, and on behalf of the people of Solomon Islands I wish to thank the Government and people of Australia for this great offer.

He said Solomon Islands will not forget the assistance rendered by the government and people of Australia and New Zealand, who are the country’s long-time partners. 

“Australia and New Zealand will also remain close in our hearts as partners of choice when it comes to the need to call for assistance in critical times.”

He said discussions in the Australian public media encourage the invasion of Australia into Solomon Islands to force a regime change does nothing to change the two countries bilateral relations.

“We have a collective duty to keep our region safe.

“When a helpless mouse is concerned by vicious cats it will do anything to survive,” Sogavare said.

By Jared Koli

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