News US tells Solomons it will ‘respond accordingly’ to security deal with China

US tells Solomons it will ‘respond accordingly’ to security deal with China

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A high-level US delegation has met the Solomon Islands’ prime minister days after a security pact was signed with China that could boost Beijing’s military presence in the Pacific.

President Joe Biden’s Indo-Pacific co-ordinator Kurt Campbell and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink discussed concerns over the deal which was revealed this week.

They warned Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare the US would “respond accordingly” if any steps were taken to establish a Chinese military presence in the region.

America is also intending to fast-track the reopening of a US embassy in Honiara and provide more medical aid.

“The US delegation outlined clear areas of concern with respect to the purpose, scope, and transparency of the agreement,” the White House said in a statement on Saturday (AEST).

“If steps are taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power-projection capabilities, or a military installation, the delegation noted that the US would then have significant concerns and respond accordingly.

“In response to these enumerated concerns, Prime Minister Sogavare reiterated his specific assurances that there would be no military base, no long-term presence, and no power projection capability, as he has said publicly.”

US National Security Council’s Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell leaves after a meeting with the Solomon Islands government. Photo: Getty

The China deal has become an election issue in Australia, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison forced to brush off criticism that the Federal Government had dropped the ball on the Solomon Islands’ growing relationship with Beijing.

The Solomons switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019 and Mr Sogavare said the decision had “placed the country on the right side of history”.

On Friday, Mr Sogavare joined China’s ambassador Li Ming at the handover of an athletics field donated by China, one of the sporting facilities worth a total of $US120 million ($163 million) China has paid for to help the Solomons host the 2023 Pacific Games.

Despite a flurry of calls not to go ahead with the security deal, Mr Sogavare said it would not undermine peace in the region.

But for Australia, the security pact raises the prospect of a Chinese military presence less than 2000 kilometres from its shores.

Mr Sogavare says the pact, details of which have not been disclosed, will allow Chinese police to protect Chinese-funded infrastructure projects.

The Solomon Islands switched diplomatic allegiances to China in 2019. Photo: Getty

Mr Campbell met Mr Sogavare in the capital Honiara on Friday.

Mr Campbell had discussed the China-Solomon Islands agreement with neighbouring Fiji and Papua New Guinea over the past two days, the US embassy in Papua New Guinea said in a statement.

The security pact is a major inroad for China in the Pacific and Mr Campbell had been expected to press Mr Sogavare not to sign it.

Australian officials had previously said Mr Campbell’s visit was likely to have prompted China and the Solomon Islands to announce the signing was a done deal.

The Solomon Islands occupy a strategic position in the Pacific and were home to some of the bloodiest fighting of that theatre of World War II.

The country was rocked by riots last year in which four people were killed.

Mr Li, in a livestreamed speech, defended the security pact.

“Development and security are two sides of a coin,” he said.

“Without safety and security countries cannot enjoy sustainable development and economic growth. This was demonstrated by the riot last year.”

New Zealand and Tonga have said they will raise the security deal at an upcoming meeting of Pacific Islands Forum leaders while Japan plans to send a vice foreign minister to the Solomon Islands this month over concerns about the pact, the Kyodo news agency reported.

Mr Campbell said in January the Pacific was likely to see “strategic surprise” in terms of basing arrangements, and the US and allies including Australia, New Zealand, Japan and France needed to step up in the region.

The Solomons’ opposition leader also met Mr Campbell and discussed building democracy in the region, the opposition party said in a statement.

-with AAP