Western governments have been concerned about China’s establishment of a military presence in the South Pacific nation.
China says it has signed a wide-ranging security pact with the Solomon Islands, just hours after the United States announced it would send officials to the South Pacific nation amid concerns Beijing could establish a military foothold there.
A provision in a draft version of the deal, leaked last month, raised alarm as it allowed Chinese naval and security deployments in the Solomon Islands, a country of some 700,000 people that in recent months has faced political and social unrest.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday that “the foreign ministers of China and the Solomon Islands officially signed the framework agreement on security cooperation recently,” without providing details on the final version of the agreement. .
According to the leaked draft, armed Chinese police could be deployed at the request of the Solomon Islands to maintain “social order”, although Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has repeatedly said he has no intention of allowing China to build a military base there.
Words have done little to allay American concerns.
“The broad nature of the security agreement leaves the door open for the deployment of the PRC [People’s Republic of China] military forces to the Solomon Islands,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday.
The signing of the pact “could increase destabilization within the Solomon Islands and will set a worrying precedent for the wider Pacific Islands region,” it added.
During the visit, the officials plan to discuss the reopening of the US embassy in the capital Honiara. Washington did not immediately respond to Tuesday’s announcement that the deal had been signed.
The planned trip to the US comes after Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja traveled to Honiara in early April to personally ask the prime minister not to sign the agreement.
The latest announcement comes as the US and its regional allies have tried to counter what they call China’s increasingly assertive actions in the Pacific, particularly in its territorial claims over portions of the South China Sea and actions towards Taiwan.
Speaking on Tuesday, China’s Wang accused Western powers of “deliberately exaggerating tensions” over the pact.
Security cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands is a “normal exchange and cooperation between two sovereign and independent countries,” he said.
The Solomon Islands only recognized Beijing in 2019 after changing ties with Taiwan, the self-governing island that China considers a breakaway province.
Rising unemployment and opposition to Sogavare’s leadership have sparked massive unrest in the country.
In November, protesters attempted to storm parliament for several days of deadly riots.