US warns Solomons-China deal may set 'concerning precedent' for other islands
Updated: Apr 13, 2022
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Despite claims by the Solomon Islands that its security pact with China will not entail a “devious plan,” Washington has raised concerns that the agreement would open the floodgates for similar deals with other island nations in the region.
“We understand the Solomon Islands and China are discussing a broad security-related agreement building on a recently signed police cooperation agreement,” a spokesman for the State Department said in a statement.
“We believe signing such an agreement could increase destabilization within the Solomon Islands and will set a concerning precedent for the wider Pacific Island region,” the statement reads.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare earlier denied speculations that the security treaty involved the basing of Chinese military forces in the country.
U.S. officials, however, are not convinced that the agreement between Honiara and Beijing was of little consequence to the region.
“The broad nature of the security agreement leaves open the door for the deployment of Chinese military forces to the Solomon Islands,” the State Department said.
The Financial Times earlier reported that Kurt Campbell, national security coordinator for the Asia-Pacific region, was preparing for an emergency trip to the Solomon Islands.
The State Department, however, said it had “nothing to announce on the trip at this time.”
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Solomon Islands government cautioned the public "to be alert against fake news or misinterpreted commentaries on social media forums" related to the leaked documents containing official correspondences between officials of the Solomons and the Chinese embassy in Honiara.
“There is nothing to be concerned about,” the statement reads. "It is anticipated that more fearmongering, lies and propaganda will be forthcoming from people who are hell-bent on creating instability for their own interests."
Addressing the Parliament on April 1, Sogavare said the proposed bilateral security deal with China “has no devious intention, nor is it a secret plan but a broadened security arrangement that provides the avenue for us to seek support from not only one country.”
He said he was wary of the security ramification of hosting a military base and his government "will not be careless to allow such an initiative to take place" under his watch.
“If (China) is to set up its military base in the Pacific, it would have done so with either Papua New Guinea or Fiji, the first Pacific countries to have a bilateral relationship with China,” Sogavare said.
During his trip to Fiji in February, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Washington's plans to open an embassy in Honiara in an effort to counter China’s influence in the politically troubled Pacific islands.
Read related story
Panuelo urges Solomons to reconsider security pact with China
In a statement released today, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III reiterated concerns about China's bid "to refashion the region, and the international system more broadly, in ways that serve its interests."
Austin issued the statement during the fourth Ministerial Dialogue between the U.S. and India, where they discussed the strengthening of "ties between two largest democracies."