China said on Tuesday it had signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, a move set to heighten concerns of the United States and allies Australia and New Zealand about growing Chinese influence in a region traditionally under their sway.
However, Solomon Islands officials earlier appeared to suggest no agreement had yet been signed.
Douglas Ete, chairman of Parliament’s public accounts committee, told fellow lawmakers that Chinese officials would arrive in mid-May to sign cooperation pacts. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told Parliament that a proposed security agreement would not include a Chinese military base.
Ete said the agreements would increase cooperation on trade, education and fisheries, but that he opposed the idea of allowing China to establish a military base.
In Washington, the White House, which is sending a high-level U.S. delegation to the Solomons’ capital, Honiara, this week, said it was concerned about “the lack of transparency and unspecified nature” of the pact. read more
Australian officials said China appeared to want to pre-empt the arrival of the U.S. delegation in Honiara, which the White House said would discuss concerns about China, as well as the reopening of a U.S. embassy.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the framework pact had been signed recently by State Councilor Wang Yi and Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele. He did not detail where or when the signing took place.
A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council (NSC) said the reported signing “follows a pattern of China offering shadowy, vague deals with little regional consultation in fishing, resource management, development assistance and now security practices.”
The NSC later said the United States would “intensify its engagement in the region to meet 21st-century challenges, from maritime security and economic development to the climate crisis and COVID-19.”