SYDNEY (Reuters) – China will send police and riot equipment to the Solomon Islands where dozens of buildings were burnt down last month during civil unrest, the Pacific island nation said on Thursday.
The rioting was sparked after disagreement over a 2019 switch of diplomatic ties to China from Taiwan by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare fuelled a dispute between the national government and the most populous province, Malaita. Other domestic issues also fuelled the discontent.
Six Chinese police liaison officers will equip and train the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, a statement from the Solomon Islands government said.
Australia has ramped up its presence in the Pacific via its membership of the “Quad” group, together with the United States, India and Japan, to counter China’s expanding interests in the Indo-Pacific.
Around 200 police and soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea arrived in the capital Honiara within days of the riots, at Sogavare’s request.
Australia has a bilateral security agreement with the Solomon Islands, and Australian police were previously deployed to the Solomon Islands in 2003 under a regional peace keeping mission and stayed for a decade.
The Chinese riot equipment includes shields, helmets, batons and “other non-lethal gears that will further enhance Solomon Islands Police ability in confronting future threats”, the statement on the government website said.
Some Australian soldiers who had been deployed in Honiara began returning home on Thursday.
Dozens of buildings were burnt in the Chinatown of Honiara, the capital, and shops looted in November amid violence after Sogavare refused to speak with anti-government protesters.
Sogavare has blamed “agents of Taiwan” in Malaita province for the protests; Taiwan has denied any involvement in the unrest.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)