China signs security pact with Solomon Islands

China signs security pact with Solomon Islands

China has signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, a move that will raise the concerns of Australia, the United States and New Zealand about growing Chinese influence in the Pacific.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters on Tuesday that the framework pact was signed by China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, and the Solomon Islands foreign minister, Manele.

He didn't give any details of where, or precisely when, the signing took place.

The Australian government is concerned that the pact, details of which have not been publicly made public, could be a step towards a Chinese military presence less than 2,000 km from Australia.

The Chinese embassy in Honiara confirmed to the Guardian that the document had been signed.

A draft version of the agreement, which was leaked last month, sent shock waves across the region over provisions allowing Chinese security and naval deployments to the crisis-hit Pacific island nation.

According to the draft, armed Chinese police could be deployed at the Solomon Islands request to maintain social order. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare sassurances that he does not intend to allow China to build a military base there has done little to alleviate the concerns.

On Tuesday, the Pacific islands nation was told that China would send officials to the Solomons next month to sign cooperation pacts.

The security pact was initially signed by the Chinese embassy and Solomon Islands officials, but ministers had not yet signed it.

Last week, Zed Seselja, Australia's minister for international development and the Pacific, took time out of the federal election campaign to visit Honiara to ask Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare not to sign the framework pact.

The matter is set to become an issue in the Australian election campaign. Labor's foreign affairs spokesperson, Penny Wong, said : Despite all of his tough talk, our region has become less secure on Scott Morrison's watch. The Australian government has been looking for a response.

On Monday, the White House said a high-level US delegation, including Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell, would also travel to Honiara this week to discuss concerns about China, as well as the reopening of a US embassy.

The broad nature of the security agreement leaves open the door for the deployment of PRC military forces to the Solomon Islands, US state department spokesperson Ned Price said on Monday.

He said that the pact could cause more destabilisation within the Solomon Islands and set a worrying precedent for the wider Pacific Island region.

When asked about the US officials scheduled visit, Wang said that deliberate attempts to inflate tensions and mobilise rival camps are also doomed to fail.

Security cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands is normal exchange and cooperation between two sovereign and independent countries, he said.

Honiara s parliament was told by the chairman of the public accounts committee and the lawmaker for East Honiara, Douglas Ete, that Chinese foreign ministry officials would arrive next month.

He said that the PRC foreign affairs will go to Honiara in the middle of May to sign multilateral agreements and cooperations with the Solomon Islands government.

Ete said the visit meant the two nations would increase cooperation on trade, education and fishing, but he rejected the idea of the Solomons signing a security pact with China to set up a military base.

Sogavare told parliament that the proposed security agreement would not include a Chinese military base. His office said it could not say who Chinese officials would visit Honiara.