Solomon Islands beefed up its police force’s hardware with a donation on Friday of water cannons from China, days after it received guns from Australia.
The Solomons — a sprawling archipelago in the South Pacific — has become a hotspot in a diplomatic tussle which sees the United States and Australia seeking to limit China’s influence.
Australia and China’s donations to the nation’s security forces this week comes a year after protests against the government turned violent in November, leaving at least three people dead.
At a ceremony in the capital Honiara Friday led by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, China handed over two water cannon trucks, 30 motorbikes and 20 SUVs to the Solomons’ police force.
Sogavare said the hardware donated will help police keep the peace on the Solomons as it prepares to host the Pacific Games next year before holding general elections in 2024.
“We must serve our people without fear or favour. The security of our country depends on you,” Sogavare told police officers.
Chinese ambassador Li Ming said his country’s donation of vehicles came at the request of Sogovare’s government, and will “further contribute to the law and order management of Solomon Islands”.
Australian Federal Police had also given 60 short-barrelled rifles and 13 vehicles to the Solomons’ police force on Wednesday — a donation that came after Canberra hosted Sogavare last month in a bid to smooth diplomatic tensions strained by China’s growing footprint.
This sparked criticism from opposition leader Matthew Wale, who found the donation of Australia’s weapons “deeply disturbing”.
“Obviously we do not have external threats so why the introduction of these high-powered guns?… Or are we on the pathway of being militarised again?” Wale told AFP.
“If it is… then we are arming ourselves against our own citizens.”
The vehicles donated by China cost around $1.7 million while the weapons and transport supplied by Australia cost just under one million dollars.
The 2019 riots in Honiara caused $67 million worth of damage and left the city’s Chinatown district in ruins before a snap deployment of peacekeepers from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea helped restore order.
The Chinese community was targeted partly due to the government’s decision to switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China in 2019, a move that angered some communities in the aid-dependent nation.