Australia will increase its security force in the Solomon Islands to help ensure stability during the Pacific Games and next year’s national elections, according to recent government statements.
The Solomon Islands, which has caused concern for the United States and Australia by forging closer ties with China, is expected to receive thousands of visitors in November for the 24-nation Pacific Games and also will hold its delayed national elections in the first half of 2024.
“The security support needed for both events is huge and Australia’s affirmative response will definitely fill security gaps,” the office of Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said in a statement Monday.
The statement, without giving numbers, said Australia will increase personnel deployed in the Solomon Islands and extend the broader security deployment, which began in late 2021 in response to a domestic crisis, until the middle of next year.
The Solomon Islands, home to some 700,000 people, has become a focus of the U.S.-China competition for influence in the Pacific and has sought to benefit from the rivalry by securing more development assistance.
Sogavare’s government switched its diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 2019 and signed a security pact with Beijing last year that the United States feared could pave the way for a Chinese military presence in the region. China has bankrolled more than half the cost of hosting the 2023 Pacific Games including the construction of a 10,000 seat stadium.
Australia sent more than 200 police and troops to the Solomon Islands in December 2021 at the request of Sogavare following anti-China and anti-government riots in the capital Honiara. Fiji, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand also sent forces.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs said on Monday that “Australia is proud to be Solomon Islands’ primary security partner.”
A spokesperson for the department said additional security personnel will be sent for the Pacific Games in the capital Honiara and Australia’s contribution to the Solomons International Assistance Force–which is the bulk of that force–will continue until June 2024 to provide security for the national elections.
The statement from Sogavare’s office said the formal request for additional security assistance was made to Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in early August. Australia also will provide support for an increase in security forces from Papua New Guinea, the statement said.
Papua New Guinea, meanwhile, is providing Solomon Islands with an electronic visitor processing system for the Pacific Games, according to a Papua New Guinea government statement last week.