Solomon Islands threatens to ban foreign journalists

The Solomon Islands has threatened to ban or deport foreign journalists for “disrespectful and demeaning” coverage, fuelling concerns about democratic backsliding in the Pacific nation as its alliance with China deepens.

In a lengthy statement castigating recent media coverage, the office of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on Wednesday accused Western journalists of trying to “engineer regime change”.

It also accused the media of “containing China and spreading anti-China sentiments”, while raising the threat of deportation.

Targeting an ABC report about rising Chinese influence in the Solomon Islands, the statement accused the Australian public broadcaster of “racial profiling”, “racism and racial stereotyping”.

“The Constitution of Solomon Islands protects Solomon Islands from racial discrimination and the Government of Solomon Islands will ensure that racial practices are eliminated from Solomon Islands.”

The statement then noted that Kiribati — another Beijing ally — “had in the past deported journalists”.

“ABC or other foreign media must understand that the manner in which journalists are allowed to conduct themselves in other (countries) does not give them the right to operate in the same manner in the Pacific.”

Sogavare has deepened ties with China’s autocratic government and proposed changing the constitution to delay scheduled elections.

The four-time prime minister has twice been ousted by votes of no confidence, and has faced street protests against his decision to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

After widespread rioting in the capital Honiara demanding his ouster late last year, Sogavare signed a secretive security pact with Beijing that — according to a leaked draft — allows him to call in Chinese security forces to quell further unrest.

That has raised concerns in Canberra and Washington about the prospect of a Chinese military base being established, or China being allowed to develop dual-use facilities.

Sogavare has repeatedly said he will not allow any military base to be built in the Solomon Islands, a point reiterated in the statement.

But he has said China will be permitted to build wharves and airports — which could be useful for both civilian and military purposes.

“There will never be a Chinese military base in his country, any such deal with Beijing would undermine regional security, make Solomon Islands an enemy and put our country and our people as potential targets for military strikes,” the statement said.

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