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US warns on China pact as diplomats head to Solomons

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Royal Solomon Islands Police Force personnel are seen being trained by Chinese officers in a March 2022 handout photo. AFP

US warns on China pact as diplomats head to Solomons

The United States on Monday voiced alarm over a potential security deal between China and the Solomon Islands, as top US diplomats headed to the South Pacific to curb Beijing’s inroads.

Kurt Campbell and Daniel Kritenbrink, the top officials on Asia at the National Security Council and State Department respectively, will lead the delegation traveling this week to the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

A leaked draft of a security agreement between the Solomon Islands and China sparked fear in the United States and Australia that Beijing will gain a military foothold in the South Pacific, including naval deployments.

Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has since said that the Solomon Islands does not intend to allow China to build a military base.

“Despite the Solomon Islands government’s comments, the broad nature of the security agreement leaves open the door for the deployment of PRC military forces to the Solomon Islands,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

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

He said that the Solomon Islands were already served by its security relationship with Australia, which rushed forces to the archipelago last year following riots.

A senior Australian official paid a similar visit last week and asked Sogavare not to sign the agreement with Beijing.

The United States said it was seeking to show its support for the Solomon Islands, a nation of 800,000 people that has been beset by unrest and poverty.

Earlier this year the United States announced during a regional trip by Secretary of State Antony Blinken that it would re-establish an embassy in the former British protectorate’s capital, Honiara.

A National Security Council statement said the US delegation will use the stops in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to “meet with senior government officials to ensure our partnerships deliver prosperity, security, and peace across the Pacific Islands and the Indo-Pacific.”

The United States and its Asian allies have voiced growing concern about China’s assertiveness on the seas, especially in the dispute-rife waters near it.

The Solomon Islands, a World War II battlefront, recognized China only in 2019 after switching from ties with Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that Beijing claims.

The US delegation will also travel to Hawaii to meet senior US military officials and regional partners at US Indo-Pacific Command.

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