Witnesses posted images on social media of smoke rising from the capital, Honiara, and said Chinese-owned businesses were being targeted. In Beijing, Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, expressed “grave concern” and called on the Solomon Islands government “to take all necessary measures to protect the safety of Chinese citizens and organisations”.
The Australian government said the deployment would support “riot control” and security at critical infrastructure, a day after demonstrators attempted to storm parliament and topple the prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare.
Canberra said the move was in response to a request from Mr Sogavare under an existing security agreement between the two countries, and should not be seen as taking a position in Solomon Islands’ internal affairs.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the deployment on Thursday.
Mr Morrison said a detachment of 75 federal police officers, 43 troops and at least five diplomats are heading to the islands “to provide stability and security” – and help local authorities to guard important infrastructure.
Mr Sogavare said his government is still in control.
He said: “Today I stand before you to inform you all that our country is safe – your government is in place and continues to lead our nation.”
He added that those responsible would “face the full brunt of the law”.
People on the island have long complained of neglect by the central government and strongly opposed the decision to switch the country’s diplomatic allegiances from Taiwan to China in 2019.
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The Solomon Islands were one of the few nations in the world that recognised the island of Taiwan as an independent state.
However, in 2019, the island nation broke ties with Taiwan and realigned its allegiance to Beijing.
Australia has taken a large step in becoming a regional security partner, in particular following the signing of the so-called AUKUS deal with the US and the UK.
China has taken a strong diplomatic stance against the AUKUS deal and has ramped up its military powers in the area.
As the Soloman Islands sympathises with Beijing, the arrival of Australian troops will no doubt raise eyebrows in Beijing.
Speaking of relations between China and the Solomon Islands, Foreign Minister Zhao Lijian said: “All attempts to disrupt the normal development of relations between China and the Solomon Islands are just futile.”
He also stressed the one-China principle as a basic norm governing international relations.
China and the Solomon Islands officially established diplomatic relations in September 2019, opening a new chapter in bilateral relations.
During the past two years, the two countries have strengthened their ties and cooperation on all fronts.
There are around 3,000 Chinese citizens living and working in the Solomon Islands with 90 percent of them located in Honiara.