Secret shipment of replica guns to Solomon Islands police by China triggers concern | Solomon Islands

A shipment of replica firearms by China to Solomon Islands police has caused concern as the Pacific nation grapples with security concerns sparked by its increasingly close relationship with Beijing.

The police force had been criticized over the secrecy surrounding delivery of what a local media report called a “large shipment of arms” that arrived in the country on a logging vessel earlier this month from an unknown source.

On Tuesday the police said the firearms – 95 rifles and 92 pistols – were replicas donated by China for police training and denied accusations the force had anything “to conceal or hide”. It also published pictures of police training with the replicas.

Solomon Islands banned firearms and replica weapons in 2000 during a bloody ethnic conflict in which police armories were raided by militia groups. However, police were allowed to carry weapons again in 2017.

“These things do not in any way threaten the security of this country so far, except they are as good as helping RSIPF [Royal Solomon Islands Police Force] in building its tactical knowledge and capabilities,” police commissioner Mostyn Mangau said in a statement.

“RSIPF is the main security agency of this country and so some of the methodology we use or apply does not need the public to be aware of this as a matter of national security,” he added.

Solomon Islands police train with replica firearms shipped to the country by China.
Solomon Islands police have denied having anything to ‘conceal or hide’ regarding what they say was a batch of replica weapons sent by China for training purposes. Photograph: Royal Solomon Islands Police Force

It comes amid wider security concerns that Beijing could base navy warships in the area, according to a leaked draft security agreement that emerged on Thursday. Those arrangements are also likely to worry the United States, which said in February it would open an embassy in Solomon Islands after senior US administration officials expressed concern China wanted to create military relationships in the Pacific islands.

It comes just months after rioting in Solomon Islands, sparked in part by the country’s 2019 switch of diplomatic relations to Beijing from Taiwan.

The Solomon Islands’ political opposition remains skeptical about the replica firearms consignment and has demanded access to the replicas in order to verify they are not real weapons.

“Questions that raise a lot of suspicion are why are replica guns offloaded at a log pond somewhere in Guadalcanal on a logging barge? Why are they not shipped commercially and offloaded at our internationally recognized port?” deputy opposition leader Peter Kenilorea Jr said.

The government has dissociated itself from the saga and said it would be up to the police to decide whether they would allow media to view the replica guns in order to ease public concerns.

In November last year, up to 60 buildings in the capital, Honiara, were destroyed in riots that caused more than $300m of damage. Buildings in Chinatown were targeted during the outbreak of arson and looting.

The unrest came after the decision by the prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, to launch relations with China fueled a dispute between the national government and the most populous province, Malaita, although other domestic issues also stirred discontent.

Troops and police from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea were deployed to the country to assist local police in the immediate aftermath. China has also sincerely sent a team of police officers to help with training.

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