Royal Solomon Islands Police Force Commissioner Mostyn Mangau says replica firearms incapable of firing live rounds.
Solomon Islands police have denied allegations that China secretly shipped firearms to the Pacific Island nation last year, following an Al Jazeera report that uncovered new details about the controversial shipment.
Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) Commissioner Mostyn Mangau said the shipment in question contained imitation firearms and there had been no attempt to smuggle or conceal genuine guns.
“These replica firearms … are not capable of firing any live munitions. They are for training purposes and weigh about the same weight as real rifles and pistols,” Mangau said in a statement on Tuesday.
The RSIPF statement came after opposition leader Matthew Wale called on the police chief to “come clean” about the shipment following revelations that the United States doubted the government’s explanation.
Al Jazeera reported last week that US diplomats believed the shipment in March 2022 likely contained real pistols and rifles, not “replicas” intended for training purposes as claimed by the government.
“The weapons in the photo were packed in wooden crates, appeared real, and had unique serial numbers,” the US embassy in Papua New Guinea said in a diplomatic cable obtained through a freedom of information request.
US diplomats further questioned why the shipment – purported to contain 95 replica rifles and 92 replica pistols – had been unloaded under the cover of darkness if it was a routine delivery.
“[Mangau] would have Solomon Islanders believe that offloading cargo from logging vessels onto barges that float into the capital at 3am is standard practice,” the cable said.
“According to Mangau’s explanation, it was not unusual for the government to import four large crates of weapons without listing items on a manifest, notifying customs officers or informing the public.”
Solomon Islands, an archipelago of just over 700,000 people, has in recent years found itself at the centre of an escalating geopolitical rivalry between China and the US and its allies.
Last year’s shipment came at an especially sensitive time for the Pacific Island country amid heightened ethnic and political tensions in the aftermath of riots in the capital’s Chinatown.
Under Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Solomon Islands has deepened its relations with China, prompting divisions inside the country and alarm among officials in the US, Australia and New Zealand.
Sogavare dropped recognition of self-ruled Taiwan in 2019 and last year signed a security cooperation agreement with Beijing, which Western officials fear could be used as a launching pad for a Chinese military base in the Pacific.