The Chinese delegation’s visit to Solomon Islands on May 26 marked the beginning of a tour of the Pacific region, called “extraordinary and unprecedented” by Pacific experts. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, will visit eight countries including Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Fiji.
All journalists from international news outlets, along with some local media organisations, have said that they are being prevented from covering or attending any of the tour’s events. Reportedly, journalists and media organisations have faced difficulties gathering specific information about the foreign minister’s itinerary in Solomon Islands.
President of the Media Association of Solomon Islands (MASI), Georgina Kekea, said that during the single press event in the capital city of Honiara, only journalists from two Solomon Islands’ newspapers, the national broadcaster, and Chinese media were allowed to attend, and are only able to ask a maximum of two questions each.
MASI called for the invited media outlets to boycott the press event in solidarity with the media workers who were blocked from attending. While ‘Covid-19 concerns’ have been cited as the official reason for the limited number of journalists in attendance, Kekea said this is an excuse to further restrict information about the countries’ security discussions.
"MASI thrives on professional journalism and sees no reason for journalists to be discriminated against based on who they represent. Giving credentials to selected journalists is a sign of favouritism. Journalists should be allowed to do their job without fear or favour,” Kekea said.
Relations between Solomon Islands and China have drawn international attention since March, after a draft security agreement between the two countries was leaked, outlining Chinese security and naval deployments to Solomon Islands.
In April, China confirmed it had signed an agreement with Solomon Islands but it is not clear what specific provisions were included in the final agreement. Wang Yi says, however, that China has no intention to build a military base on Solomon Islands.
The IFJ said, “The restriction of journalists and media organisations from the Chinese delegation’s visit to Solomon Islands sets a worrying precedent for press freedom in the Pacific. The IFJ urges the governments of Solomon Islands and China to ensure all journalists are given fair and open access to all press events.”