China signs security pact with Solomon Islands

275
3
China signs security pact with Solomon Islands

China has sealed a wide-ranging security pact with the Solomon Islands, an agreement that the United States and its regional allies fear could give Beijing a military foothold in the South Pacific.

The confirmation came after Washington discouraged a security agreement between the countries, with top US diplomats headed to the South Pacific this week to curb Beijing's inroads.

The foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Tuesday that the framework agreement on security cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands was officially signed by the foreign ministers of China and the Solomon Islands. He didn't say when or where the signing took place.

A draft version of the agreement, leaked last month, rattled Western governments with provisions allowing Chinese security and naval deployments to the crisis-hit Pacific island nation.

According to the draft, armed Chinese police could be deployed to the Solomon Islands' request to maintain social order. Australia is concerned that the agreement could see Beijing establish a military presence less than 2,000 kilometres 1,200 miles away.

On Tuesday, Wang accused Western powers of deliberately exaggerating tensions over the pact, and questioned the motives behind the US officials' upcoming visit.

The security deal represents a normal exchange and cooperation between two sovereign and independent countries, Wang said.

Attempts to interfere with the cooperation of island countries with China are being obstructed. He said at a regular press briefing that the plan was doomed to fail.

Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has said that he does not intend to allow China to build a military base there, but hasn't helped alleviate Western concerns.

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 spokesman Ned Price said Monday.

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

The White House's high-level delegation to the Solomons is expected to discuss its concerns, as well as the reopening of the US embassy in the former British protectorate's capital, Honiara.

Earlier this month, the Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja travelled to Honiara to ask the prime minister not to ink the deal.

The United States and its Asian allies have expressed growing concern about China's assertiveness in the Pacific, where it is locked in several territorial disputes with neighbouring countries.

The Solomon Islands switched from self-ruled Taiwan to Beijing in 2019 has resulted in huge amounts of Chinese investment, but the issue has been fraught with tensions.

The island nation of 800,000 has been wracked by political and social unrest, and many of its people live in poverty.

In November, protesters tried to storm the parliament and went on a deadly three-day rampage that destroyed much of Honiara's Chinatown.

The unrest was caused by a number of tensions, including opposition to Sogavare's rule, inter-island rivalries and high unemployment. Anti-China sentiment also played a role in the unrest.