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China ships fake guns to Solomon Islands

Mystery shipment comes months after riots rocked Pacific nation’s capital

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Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare reviews a Chinese honor guard during a welcome ceremony in Beijing in 2019.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare reviews a Chinese honor guard during a welcome ceremony in Beijing in 2019. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Questions are being asked after allegations the Chinese Embassy in the Soloman Islands secretly shipped crates filled with replica firearms to Honiara, the capital of the Soloman Islands.

The timing of the shipment prompted concern on social media, coming just months after the city was rocked by violent ethnic riots, per an ABC report, which described the arrival of the fake guns as a “surreal controversy.” The replica weapons were sent in under the radar, arriving on a Chinese-Malaysian logging vessel that docked at a private, Chinese-owned wharf.

Solomon Islands opposition leaders are calling on the government, lead by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, to come forward with more details about the shipment. Some opposition parliamentarians have accused his administration’s secretive handling of the issue, which they say has spread anxiety among the public.

China has recently stepped in to provide security assistance to the Solomon Islands where riots late last year triggered widespread instability. Last month, China sent in nine officers dubbed the “People's Republic of China Public Security Bureau's Solomon Islands Policing Advisory Group” in order to train local law enforcement officers and strengthen their "anti-riot capabilities.”

Senior Australian security sources told the ABC in 2021 that this policy training program could morph into a broader effort by Beijing in the future, potentially leading to a military presence in the country.

Canberra, at Sogavare’s request, sent in Australian Federal Police (AFP) officials and Australian troops to help maintain order in November last year. Some analysts interpreted Australia’s speedy deployment as reflecting its concern that China would fill the security void in the region if it did not respond fast enough.

The Solomon Islands is a former ally of Taiwan’s, yet in 2019, it cut ties with Taipei for Beijing with Kiribati following just days later. Consequently, Taiwan’s presence in the Pacific has waned in recent years, as China pushes to exert its interests in the region.