Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told parliament on Wednesday that the Solomon Islands decision to sign a security pact with China will not hurt or undermine peace and harmony in the region.
Sogavare confirmed that the pact had been signed by foreign ministers from the two countries, a day after China announced the signing at a regular news briefing in Beijing.
The move comes days before the White House delegation, including Indo Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell, arrives in Honiara, has raised concerns in Canberra about the possibility of a Chinese military presence less than 2,000 kilometers away.
New Zealand's foreign minister, Nanaia Mahuta, said on Wednesday that New Zealand had made clear to both the Solomon Islands and China its grave concerns about the pact's potential to destabilize the Pacific region.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the Solomon Islands were breaching an agreement within the main regional grouping, the Pacific Island Forum, for nations to discuss defense matters with the group before making major decisions.
"We are concerned about the militarization of the Pacific and we continue to call on the solomons to work with the Pacific with any concerns about their security," Ardern told New Zealand media outlet Stuff.co. Campbell met with Fiji's prime minister Frank Bainimarama on Wednesday in Suva to discuss regional security, and will also travel to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, according to the U.S. embassy.
The United States, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia shared concerns about the security pact and its serious risks to a free and open Indo-Pacific, the White House said in a statement after officials from those nations met with Campbell in Honolulu.
Australia s Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Wednesday that this has not been agreed in an open and transparent way. Solomon Islands lawmakers have urged Sogavare to publicly disclose the terms of the security pact.
Sogavare said the pact would be disclosed after a process, but added that the security cooperation with China was not directed at any countries or external alliances, rather than our internal security situation. He asked all our neighbors, friends, and partners to respect the sovereign interests of the Solomon Islands and to be certain that the decision will not adversely affect or undermine the peace and harmony of our region.
A leaked draft contained provisions for Chinese naval vessels to replenish in the Solomon Islands, alarming Australia.
Sogavare told parliament on Wednesday that the security pact would not allow a Chinese military base, and said that the pact would allow the protection of infrastructure after riots in November saw buildings torched and lives lost.
Let the people of the Solomon Islands know that we entered into an arrangement with China with our eyes wide open, guided by our national interests, he said.
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in the middle of a national election campaign, has been criticized by the opposition Labor party over what they call the largest diplomatic failure in the Pacific since World War II.
It was clear that relationships between Australia and Sogavare had broken down, and that the Morrison government should have been engaged more deeply for a longer time, according to Anthony Albanese, the Opposition's Labor leader.
Australia has traditionally provided policing support to Honiara, a Pacific island neighbor, under a bilateral security treaty signed in 2017 and an earlier regional policing mission.
Payne said Labor criticism did not recognize the Solomon Islands had made a sovereign decision, and Australia s Minister for International Development and Pacific Zed Seselja had met with Sogavare last week to urge him not to sign the pact with China.