By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
In an announcement that took Washington aback, the Solomon Islands has confirmed that its security pact with China is a done deal.
Despite the Solomon goverment's assurance that the treaty with China "is about peace and wellbeing of Solomon Islands and the region," the U.S. State Department was troubled by what it considered a stealthy move.
“We are concerned by the lack of transparency and unspecified nature of this agreement, which follows a pattern of China offering shadowy, vague deals with little regional consultation in fishing, resource management, development assistance, and now security practices,” said Ned Price, spokesperson for the State Department.
On Wednesday, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare backed China’s earlier announcement that the security cooperation was signed by the Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele and his Chinese counterpart, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
“The agreement has been moving forward for some time. The reported signing does not change our concerns, and that of regional allies and partners, and it does not change our commitment to a strong relationship with the region,” Price said.
A U.S. delegation led by Kurt Campbell, National Security Council’s coordinator for Indo-Pacific Coordinator, and Dan Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, is scheduled to arrive in Honiara on Friday.
“This visit follows up on Secretary Antony Blinken’s visit to the region, where he announced we were opening an embassy in Solomon Islands,” Price said.
He added that the visiting U.S. officials will discuss Washington’s concerns about the security treaty.
“Although Solomon Islands has said it will not allow the China to build a military base, we still raise our concerns as part of our broader efforts to reinforce our longstanding ties with Solomon Islands,” Price said.
“This visit is about demonstrating how our partnerships in the region can deliver prosperity, peace, and security and highlighting and strengthening the bonds between Americans and Solomon Islanders,” he added.
Sogavare, meanwhile, asked his nation's allies and neighbors "to respect the sovereign interests of Solomon Islands which the country had subscribed to under the Biketewa and Boe Declarations on regional security."
Denying speculations that the agreement allows China to deploy warships to the Pacific region, Sogavare assured state leaders that security pact with Beijing "will not adversely impact or undermine the peace and harmony of our region."
“Let me once again reiterate that Solomon Islands Security Cooperation with China is guided by the country’s foreign policy of “friends to all and enemies to none," Sogavare said.
"Solomon Islands do not have any external adversaries nor is the framework directed at any countries or external alliances rather at our own internal security situation from within the state. It complements our (2017) Security Agreement with Australia,” Sogavare told the Solomon Parliament on Wednesday.
Sogavare also assured the Solomon Islanders that his administration entered into an arrangement with China "with our eyes wide open guided by our national interests."
"We have full understanding of the fragility of peace and our duty as a state is to protect all people, their properties and critical national infrastructure of the country,” Sogavare said. “We will not allow any threats from within Solomon Islands to threaten regional stability. Solomon Islands stability is the region’s stability."
If anything, Sogavare said, domestic instability is more worrisome as shown by violent events including arson and rioting between 2003 and 2021.