US, chIna In Solomon Islands after diplomatic coup

US, chIna In Solomon Islands after diplomatic coup

The US and Chinese diplomats fought for the affections of the Solomon Islands on Friday after the small island state shocked its American allies by signing a defence pact with Beijing.

The traditional allies of the United States and Australia are deeply suspicious of the deal, fearing it will give China a military foothold in the South Pacific.

A White House delegation landed at the airport in the capital Honiara and was escorted into town in a white minibus ahead of planned meetings with the government, said an AFP correspondent at the scene.

On the same day, China's ambassador to the Solomon Islands was not far away, but he attended a ceremony with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to hand over an elite, blue-coloured running track.

It is part of a China-funded national stadium complex, worth US $53 million, that will host the 2023 Pacific Games for the first time in the island state of 800,000 people, many of whom live in poverty.

On behalf of the Chinese government and people of China, we congratulate the government of the Solomon Islands, said China's ambassador, Li Ming, as he delivered the latest investment lavished by Beijing on a Pacific nation.

As the influence grows, Beijing announced this week it had signed a security pact with Honiara.

A draft of the deal shocked countries in the region when it was leaked last month, particularly measures that would allow Chinese naval deployments to the Pacific nation, which is less than 2,000 kilometres 1,200 miles from Australia.

The Pacific state's prime minister insists that the pact will not lead to China building a military base, but this has done little to assuade the concerns of the United States and Australia.

Too late to stop the deal, the White House said its diplomatic delegation was visiting Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands this week to ensure prosperity, security and peace across the Pacific Islands and the Asia Pacific. US diplomatic team led by Kurt Campbell and assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs Daniel Kritenbrink landed in Honiara just three days after the security pact with China was announced.

A State Department official told AFP in Washington this week that the lack of transparency and unspecified nature of the agreement is what we are concerned about, because it follows a pattern of offering shadowy, vague deals with little regional consultation in fishing, resource management, development assistance, and now security practices.

The agreement has been moving forward for a long time. We don't have to change our concerns because of the reported signing. The Solomon Islands' leader says his government signed the deal with our eyes wide open, but he has refused to tell parliament when the signed version will be made public.

Sogavare's government cut ties with Taiwan in September 2019 in favor of diplomatic relations with China, unlocking investment but stoking inter-island rivalries.

In November of last year, protests against Sogavare's rule sparked violent riots in the capital, during which much of the city's Chinatown was torched.

Anti-China sentiment has also been cited as playing a role in the unrest, which was partly fuelled by poverty and unemployment.