East Timorese president hits out at Solomon Islands leader for pact with Beijing

East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta has criticized Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare for his security pact with Beijing, while urging “serious” peaceful leaders to be “sensitive” to their neighbours.

“Don’t bring in extraterritorial, regional powers, interests that might not be welcomed by our neighbors,” Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and president of East Timor, told the National Press Club on Monday. September 7.

“Any rational Timorese leader would never do anything without considering the sensitivities of [their] neighbors. So that would be my message to my brothers and sisters in the Pacific Islands,” he said.

Ramos-Horta’s comment came a day after Sogavare lambasted Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong for offering to fund her country’s election, calling the offer “foreign interference” and an “assault” on the democracy of the Solomons.

“The timing of the public announcement by the Australian Government media is actually a strategy to influence how MPs will vote on this bill,” he said.

Foreign Secretary Penny Wong defended her government’s actions when pressed in the Senate, saying the offer of assistance was respectful of the island nation’s sovereignty.

“Supporting an election, which takes place when the government and parliament of the Solomon Islands determine when that election will take place, is an offer that respects the sovereignty of the Solomon Islands,” she said.

“It has been a long-standing practice of governments of both political stripes to support democratic processes in the Solomon Islands.”

Nonetheless, Sogavare said he would accept Australia’s offer, as his criticisms of Australia were seen as “ammunition” to distract from the country’s internal problems, The Examiner reported.

Meanwhile, the decision by Australian, New Zealand and Fijian forces to intervene was seen by some experts as easing the pressure on Sogavare and giving him breathing space to appease his cabinet and deepen ties with Beijing.

Sogavare is due to make an official visit to Australia in October.

New fears of Beijing’s growing influence

Ramos-Horta’s criticism of Sogavare referred to the security agreement signed in April between the Solomon Islands and Beijing.

The deal would allow Chinese Communist Party troops, weapons and ships to be stationed in the Solomon Islands, located near Australia, New Zealand and the US territory of Guam.

Moreover, the recent denial of permission to dock by the British patrol vessel HMS Spey and the US coast guard Oliver Henry has raised new suspicions of encroachment from Beijing. This move was described by South Pacific expert Cleo Paskal as Sogavare’s latest power play.

Despite this, Ramos-Horta had previously said his country would “consider partnering with Chinese investors” if the Australian government refused to build a gas pipeline from the Timor Sea in the Greater Sunrise gas field to the south coast of Australia. country.

Ramos-Horta has since backtracked on that statement, saying he will likely seek funding from Indonesia first and look to South Korea and Japan.

On June 3, East Timor signed a series of agreements with Beijing in the areas of economy, capacity building, infrastructure, agriculture, health and media. However, Ramos-Horta has ruled out a security pact with China’s ruling communist regime.

Ramos-Horta is currently in Australia for a five-day official visit as he discusses with leaders the development of his country’s economy and regional stability.

Daniel Y. Teng contributed to this report.

Follow

Henry Jom is an Australia-based journalist who covers local news in Australia. Contact him at [email protected]

Lynn A. Saleh