Panuelo urges Solomons to reconsider security pact with China
Updated: Apr 12, 2022
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo urged the Solomon Islands to reconsider its security pact with Beijing, warning of the potential risks it poses amid the increasing geopolitical tensions across the Pacific islands region.
“I think you’d agree that it can be plainly seen—that the U.S. and China are increasingly at odds with one another,” Panuelo stated in a letter to Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
“The Federated States of Micronesia has grave security concerns about this proposed agreement because this agreement is entirely novel and unprecedented,” Panuelo added.
As if the existing geopolitical tension is not unsettling enough, a draft security agreement between Solomon Islands and China is causing anxiety across the region.
According to a leaked copy of the draft agreement circulating on social media, the security deal would allow China to base navy warships in the Pacific.
Australia, New Zealand and the United States have expressed concern about the potential for this security pact, which has emerged barely a month after the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the opening of a U.S. embassy in Honiara.
“My fear is that we—the PacificIslands—would be at the epicenter of a future confrontation between these major powers. It’s not an impossible fear; it has happened before,” Panuelo said.
Sogavare said earlier he was troubled by the region’s reaction to his country's security negotiations with China. It was “very insulting," Reuters quoted him as saying.
Sogavare told his parliament that a leaked security document with China was a draft and he would not give details on the content of the deal.
“We are not pressured in any way by our new friends and there is no intention whatsoever to ask China to build a military base in the Solomon Islands,” Reuters quoted Sogavare as saying.
Solomon Islands switched diplomatic allegiance to mainland China from Taiwan in 2019.
In November last year, riots erupted in Honiara, where thousands of protesters swarmed and burned buildings in the city's Chinatown. The protests were triggered by the people’s growing dissatisfaction with the government and its pro-China policies.
Panuelo reminded Sogovare that both the FSM and Solomon Islands were the battlegrounds during World War II.
“I am confident that neither of us wishes to see a conflict of that scope or scale ever again, and most particularly in our own backyards, and most especially as we can see—from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—that the bigger countries will choose violence if they think it serves their interests, and without regard necessarily to our interests, such as our interest to not become collateral damage,” Panuelo said.
The FSM is affiliated with the United States through the Compact of Free Association. While the FSM is an ally of China, Panuelo emphasized that his nation’s relationship with Beijing was purely economy-based.
“We call our relationship the FSM-China ‘great friendship.’ We have no loans with China, only grants; and the Chinese do not ask us to take loans," he said.
While extending assistance, Panuelo said Beijing never insists on what development assistance might look like.
“Our ideal scenario in the Federated States of Micronesia is that China and the U.S., as well as Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and so many others, become friends with one another,” Panuelo said.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could look past their fears and grievances and embrace each other as friends? Wouldn’t it be terrific if they could see that the troubles of our times, such as climate change, require all of them working in concert instead of against each other?”