Australia asks Solomon Islands to reconsider security deal with China

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Australia asks Solomon Islands to reconsider security deal with China

Australia has publicly asked the Solomon Islands to consider not signing its draft security deal with the Chinese government, increasing pressure on the Pacific country to abandon the controversial agreement.

Australian Minister for the Pacific Zed Seselja made an unusual mid-election campaign visit to the Solomon Islands on Wednesday to meet Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. He said he had expressed Australia's discomfort with the deal, which would see Chinese warships have a safe harbor in the region.

We asked the Solomon Islands respectfully to reconsider not signing the agreement and to consult the Pacific family in the spirit of regional openness and transparency, consistent with our region's security frameworks, Seselja said in a statement.

It came after the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke to Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele about plans for an American Embassy in the Pacific nation. The two officials talked about cooperation to broaden and deepen engagement between our countries in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Tuesday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in February that the U.S. planned to open an embassy in Honiara, the island nation's capital in a bid to counter China's influence. There is a consulate in the U.S.

The U.S. and Australia have launched a new diplomatic push towards the Solomon Islands in the past week, sparked by a proposed deal between Beijing and Honiara which would allow the deployment of Chinese military in the event of domestic disturbance. The draft agreement would allow China to have a safe harbor for its warships in the Solomon Islands, just 2,000 kilometers from the Australian coast.

The spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, said the security pact was based on mutual benefit and equality and didn't target a third party.

According to a regular news briefing on Wednesday, relevant countries should look at this in an objective manner, respecting the sovereignty and independent choices made by China and Solomon Islands. They should not instigate a confrontation and cause discord among Pacific Island countries. In the year 2019 the Solomon Islands officially broke its ties with Taiwan, which culminated in violent anti-China protests and Beijing sending riot gear and police advisers to the island state.

A prominent lawmaker in the Solomon Islands said he warned the Australian government that a security deal was in the works between his country's government and China and Canberra did nothing about it. Minister Seselja welcomed recent statements by the Solomon Islands leadership saying Australia remained their security partner of choice. In a call between Sherman and Australia s Kathryn Campbell, head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the U.S. diplomat highlighted her concern about recent developments in the Indo-Pacific and discussed opportunities to collaborate with partners and allies to advance peace and stability in the region.