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China’s secret shipment of replica weapons to Solomon Islands police raises concern

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The police had come under fire after reports that a “weapons shipment” arrived in the country on a logging ship from an unknown source.

A shipment of replica firearms from China to Solomon Islands police has caused concern as the Pacific nation grapples with security concerns sparked by its deepening relationship with Beijing.

The police force had been criticized for the secrecy surrounding the delivery of what a local media report called a “large arms shipment” that arrived in the country on a logging ship earlier this month from an unknown source.

On Tuesday, police said the firearms – 95 rifles and 92 pistols – were replicas donated by China for police training and denied allegations the force had anything “to hide or hide”. He also posted footage of police training with the replicas.

The Solomon Islands banned firearms and replica weapons in 2000 during a bloody ethnic conflict in which militia groups raided police stockpiles. However, the police were allowed to carry weapons again in 2017.

Related: ‘Really worrying’: China finalizes security deal with Solomon Islands to base warships in Pacific

“These things do not in any way threaten the security of this country so far, except that they are as good as helping RSIPF. [Royal Solomon Islands Police Force] in building their knowledge and tactical capabilities,” Police Commissioner Mostyn Mangau said in a statement.

“RSIPF is the main security agency in this country and therefore part of the methodology that we use or apply does not require the public to be aware of this as a matter of national security,” he added.

It comes amid broader security concerns that Beijing could base navy warships in the area, according to a leaked draft security agreement that emerged Thursday. Those deals are also likely to worry the United States, which said in February it would open an embassy in the Solomon Islands after senior US administration officials raised concerns that China wanted to build military relations in the Pacific islands.

It comes just months after unrest in the Solomon Islands, sparked in part by the country’s 2019 switch of diplomatic relations to Beijing from Taiwan.

Related: China to equip, train Solomon Islands police

The Solomon Islands political opposition is skeptical about shipping replica firearms and has demanded access to the replicas to verify they are not real weapons.

“The questions that raise a lot of suspicion are: why are replica weapons being dumped into a log pond somewhere on Guadalcanal on a logging barge? Why not ship commercially and unload at our internationally recognized port? Deputy Opposition Leader Peter Kenilorea Jr. said.

The government disassociated itself from the saga, saying it would be up to the police to decide whether to allow the media to view the replica weapons to ease public concerns.

In November last year, as many as 60 buildings in the capital, Honiara, were destroyed in riots that caused more than $300 million in damage. Buildings in Chinatown came under attack during the outbreak of arson and looting.

The unrest came after Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s decision to open relations with China fueled a dispute between the national government and the most populous province, Malaita, although other internal issues also sparked discontent.

Troops and police from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea were deployed to the country to assist local police in the immediate aftermath. Since then, China has also sent a team of police officers to help with the training.

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