Solomon Islands threatens to ban journalists after China reports

HONIARA (BLOOMBERG) – The Solomon Islands government threatened to ban “disrespectful and demeaning” journalists from entering in response to an Australian documentary that alleged widespread Beijing influence in the Pacific country.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare accused the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) of promoting “racism and racial stereotyping” in a lengthy statement published on Wednesday (Aug 24), and warned the government would “ensure that racial practices are eliminated from the Solomon Islands”.

“Such organisations or journalist who possess such qualities will not be allowed to enter Solomon Islands and other Pacific Islands nations,” Sogavare’s spokesman said in the statement.

In response, the ABC said in a statement it “completely” rejected the Solomon Island government’s claims that it had engaged in racial profiling, adding it had included numerous interviews with people living in the country. “The ABC stands by the accuracy and integrity of the reporting in this program,” it added in the statement.

Relations between Australia and the Solomon Islands have been tense since the unexpected announcement in April that Sogavare’s government had signed a security pact with the Chinese government, a diplomatic victory for Beijing and its first such agreement in the region.

An investigation by the ABC published on Aug 1 claimed there was growing Chinese government influence in the Solomon Islands, including allegations that allies of Sogavare were paid from “a Chinese slush fund” ahead of a vote of no confidence in the Pacific leader.

The ABC said a Chinese state-owned company was in negotiations to purchase a deep-water port and airstrip in the Solomon Islands – assets that could potentially be used as a future military base.

In the statement on Wednesday, Sogavare’s office denied “in the strongest term possible” allegations of corruption and any possibility of a Chinese military base in the Pacific nation.

“Let me clear the air here once and for all, the Solomon Islands-China relationship is about help improving people’s lives,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement, emphasising the ties are for building roads, bridges, wharves and airports, and not about building a military base.