SYDNEY, Australia – Senior White House official Kurt Campbell will arrive in the Solomon Islands on Friday, April 22, as Western concerns rise over a security pact the Pacific island nation recently signed with China.
Despite a flurry of calls from Washington and its allies not to go ahead with the deal, China and the Solomon Islands said this week they had signed the agreement, with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare telling parliament on Wednesday it would not undermine peace.
Sogavare on Friday will join China’s Ambassador Li Ming for the handover of facilities donated by China for Honiara to host the 2023 Pacific Games, the prime minister’s office and the Chinese embassy said.
The US delegation led by Campbell, President Joe Biden’s Indo-Pacific coordinator, has discussed the China-Solomon Islands agreement with neighboring Fiji and Papua New Guinea over the past two days, the US embassy in Port Moresby said in a statement on Friday.
The security pact is a major inroad for China in the Pacific, raising the prospect of a Chinese military presence less than 2,000 km (1,200 miles) from Australia.
US allies Australia, New Zealand, and the Federated States of Micronesia have expressed concern the pact would disrupt regional security, allowing Chinese naval vessels to replenish in Honiara. The Solomon Islands in 2019 switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing.
Campbell had been expected to urge Sogavare against signing the security agreement, a draft of which was leaked by police sources last month and published on social media. Australian officials said Campbell’s visit likely prompted China and the Solomon Islands to announce they had signed the pact.
The US statement said Campbell’s delegation will also discuss “plans to open a US embassy in Honiara.”
New Zealand and Tonga have said they will raise the Solomon Islands security deal with China at an upcoming meeting of Pacific Islands Forum leaders.
Sogavare has ruled out hosting a Chinese military base. He said the pact, details of which have not been disclosed, will allow Chinese police to protect Chinese-funded infrastructure projects in the Solomon Islands.
Campbell said in January the Pacific was the part of the world most likely to see “strategic surprise” in terms of basing arrangements, and the U.S. and allies Australia, New Zealand, Japan and France needed to step up in the region. – Rappler.com