By Kirsty Needham
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia said on Sunday it would send additional police to the Solomon Islands to boost security for the Pacific Games in November, keeping them there until June to assist with a general election.
The extended Australian police presence comes after the Solomon Islands upgraded ties with China, signing a policing agreement in July. Australia, New Zealand and the United States are concerned Chinese police could dislodge a long-standing security arrangement Canberra has with the Pacific Islands nation.
The Solomon Islands said on Friday it had invited Australia to extend the police presence, originally due to end in December.
Australia was the Pacific Islands nation’s “primary security partner”, a spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement on Sunday. The Australian police will work alongside officers from Fiji, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
“At the request of the Solomon Islands Government, Australia has extended its contribution to the Solomons International Assistance Force (SIAF) until June 2024 to assist with security for the national general elections,” the statement said.
The Australian police contingent arrived in December 2021 to quell anti-government riots, while Chinese police trainers arrived this year to prepare for the games.
More than 5,000 athletes from two dozen nations are expected to attend the games, for which China has donated and constructed stadiums and other venues.
China stepped up its funding for infrastructure after Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019. The Solomon Islands last year signed a security pact with China, raising concern in Canberra and Washington about Beijing’s naval ambitions.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by William Mallard)