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Solomon Islands security deal signed, says China foreign ministry


The United States had earlier on Tuesday warned Solomon Islands that China’s soldiers could be stationed in the Pacific nation if it signs a security deal with Beijing.

In its first public intervention in the geopolitical rift that is dominating the region, Washington urged Solomons to remember that Australia led the multinational peacekeeping force that restored order after riots in Honiara in November and suggested China’s presence would destabilise an already volatile situation.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Tuesday said that assurances from Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare that there would be no Chinese naval bases had not convinced the US that the deal was in the region’s best interests.

“Despite the Solomon Islands government’s comments, the broad nature of the security agreement leaves open the door for the deployment of [People’s Republic of China] military forces to the Solomon Islands,” said Price.

“We believe that signing such an agreement could increase destabilisation within Solomon Islands and will set a concerning precedent for the wider Pacific Island region.”

The Solomons lies less than 2000 kilometres from Australia’s east coast and is on a key shipping route between Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the United States. The country has been beset by poverty, corruption and poor infrastructure, pushing its leaders closer to promises of Chinese investment. Beijing has requested it be allowed to protect those investments by force if necessary through a security agreement in exchange for economic cooperation.

Australian officials have been quietly frustrated by the lack of public diplomacy from Washington as they attempted to convince Sogavare to pull out of the deal while respecting Solomons sovereignty. That position came to a head last week when Pacific Minster Zed Seselja explicitly asked Sogavare not to sign the deal in a meeting in Honiara.

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“Australia will continue supporting peace, prosperity, stability and our shared democratic values in Solomon Islands and across the region,” Seselja said last week.

China has been elevated alongside Australia as Solomons’ top strategic partner after the Pacific nation switched its diplomatic allegiance to Beijing from Taiwan three years ago.

Price said Campbell intended to “share perspectives, to share interests, to share concerns” while in Honiara but did not say when he would arrive.

Campbell, who along with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is in charge of China policy in the White House, will also visit Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

Kurt Campbell says the United States' allies will need to do their fair share.

Kurt Campbell says the United States’ allies will need to do their fair share.Credit:Andrew Taylor

Australian officials have been specifically concerned about what precedent the Solomons deal could set for PNG, Australia’s closest neighbour and another key target of Chinese investment in the region. PNG Prime Minister James Marape in February signed an agreement with China’s President Xi Jinping at the Winter Olympics that opposed “other countries’ interference in their internal affairs under the pretext of democracy and human rights”.

Australia is spending $580 million on upgrading six ports across PNG – including turning one into a regional container hub for the Pacific – in an attempt to counter-bid China’s investment in mining and infrastructure. At the same time, PNG has agreed to supply more LNG to China, hitting some of Australia’s exports to Beijing.

Price said Fiji, PNG, and Solomon Islands were important partners to the United States.

“It’s precisely why the Secretary met with the Pacific Islands Forum earlier this year when we were in the region,” he said.

Price said Campbell would outline what the United States can bring to the region as Washington pushes ahead with plans to establish its first embassy in Honiara.

“We’ll leave it to them to contrast what we offer from what other countries, including rather large countries in the region, might offer,” he said.

with Reuters

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