Chinese embassy in Solomon Islands asked for weapons after riots broke out in Honiara, leaked documents show


Leaked documents reveal that the Chinese Embassy in the Solomon Islands made an unsuccessful attempt to import a sniper rifle, two machine guns and dozens of pistols and rifles to Honiara last year after violent riots rocked the city.

The embassy also requested permission to fly a 10-man security detail to the capital to protect Chinese diplomats and their large diplomatic compound, leaked documents show.

This diplomatic note was sent to the Solomon Islands government on December 3, just a week after rioters targeted several Chinese-owned businesses during widespread protests against Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

The riots were partly fueled by public resentment among Solomon Islands opposed to Mr Sogavare’s decision to transfer diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 2019, although they were also driven by wider ethnic tensions and economic frustration.

According to the leaked document, the Chinese Embassy made the offer because it feared being targeted in future protests.

This document also indicated that the security team hold diplomatic passports and hold the “official status” of “diplomatic attaches”.

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He added that the security department would “enhance the safety and security of the Chinese embassy” and be “responsible for internal security and necessary escort duties outside the embassy.”

Finally, the embassy also urged the government of the Solomon Islands to get a quick response and said that – given the “current security situation in the Solomon Islands” as well as the “urgent concerns of the Embassy of China security” – it would be “greatly appreciated if the Government of the Solomon Islands could facilitate the granting of clearance”.

The note stated that the team would be bringing “small arms”, but the attached list of items offered for import included much heavier weapons: two machine guns, a sniper rifle, 10 rifles, 10 pistols and thousands of bullets.

An internal memo from the Solomon Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was also leaked, appears to indicate that the Solomon Islands government was initially open to the request.

The senior official at the head of the Foreign Office, Collin Beck, wrote that the request from the Chinese Embassy “stemmed from the recent three days of riots in November, of which the Chinese community in the Solomon Islands was most affected. by looting and violence among other business owners”.

However, Solomon Islands government sources told the ABC that the offer was later rejected by Mr Sogavare’s cabinet, but they did not provide details.

The Solomon Islands government may have been hesitant because it generally does not allow foreign embassies and high commissions to deploy their own armed personnel for protection.

In his memo, Beck acknowledged the proposed change, writing that China’s request “unfortunately sets a precedent.”

However, he still recommended moving forward and said China was a “special case” because “public debate was and remains directed against China’s interests in the country.”

Mr Beck also said the deployment would last “six to 12 months”, although there was no reference to that time frame in the Chinese embassy documents.

China has provided the Solomon Islands police with assistance and training programs.(Supplied: RSIPF bracket)

While armed Australian police and army personnel remain in Honiara as part of an international assistance team, they are under the direction of the Royal Solomon Islands Police, rather than the Australian Embassy. .

It is unclear if they provide regular protection to all diplomatic compounds in the city.

The ABC has sought comments from the Solomon Islands Department of Foreign Affairs, as well as Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s office, the Chinese Embassy in Honiara and the Australian government. None have yet responded to the request.

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