WELLINGTON, New Zealand - The leader of the Solomon Islands hit back Monday at criticism of his nation's deepening security ties with China, saying the United States and Australia had nothing to fear.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare made the remarks at a news conference in the capital Honiara after returning from a visit to China, where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other top officials.
Sogavare said that while in China, he signed nine agreements and memorandums, including a police cooperation plan.
He said the plan 'enhances cooperation on law enforcement and security matters with a commitment by China to provide support as needed' to strengthen the capacity of police law enforcement in the Pacific nation.
The new agreements come after the Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China last year, raising fears of a military buildup in the region. The U.S. has countered with diplomatic moves of its own, including opening an embassy in the Solomon Islands.
The Solomon Islands switched allegiance from the self-ruled island of Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, threatening the close ties with the U.S. that date to World War II.
Both the U.S. and Australia have raised concerns about the secrecy of the new police plan.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong told reporters she had asked about the plan when she met with China's top diplomat Wang Yi in Jakarta last week.
Wong said Australia wants more transparency and takes the view that 'security is best provided for within the Pacific family.'
At the news conference, Sogavare accused the U.S. and Australia of being 'un-neighborly' by criticizing the police plan.
'This is nothing but interference by foreign states into the internal affairs of [the] Solomon Islands,' Sogavare said.
He said China's plan to help the police complemented existing Australian and New Zealand police programs in his nation.
'Australia and the United States should not fear China's police support to Solomon Islands,' Sogavare said.
Home to 700,000 people and lying about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Australia, the Solomon Islands have been one of China's biggest successes in a campaign to expand its presence in the South Pacific.
China's Foreign Ministry earlier said that Sogavare's visit to Beijing would 'inject new momentum' into relations and 'deepen mutual political trust.'