The United States has added to the warning rhetoric that has been going to the Pacific and East Asia for weeks. The “security” agreement between the Solomon Islands and China has long been a thorn in their side.
The Americans, like Australia and New Zealand, fear that the agreement will lead to the construction of a Chinese military base on the archipelago. “Australia and New Zealand see this as a complete change of balance in the Pacific and a threat to their existence,” journalist Tomas Etzler said recently in an interview with Seznam Zprávy.
The Prime Minister of the Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, has repeatedly assured that the agreement will not lead to the creation of any base, and China has said the same. But American fears were not allayed. A delegation led by Deputy Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, Daniel Kritenbrink, arrived in the Pacific from Washington last week.
The diplomat reportedly interpreted US concerns to Solomon Prime Minister during an hour-and-a-half “constructive and sincere” meeting.
“Prime Minister Sogavare has indicated that, from the Solomon Islands’ point of view, the agreement has purely domestic implications. We have made it clear that this will potentially have security implications for the region, not only for us, but also for our allies and partners in the region, “said Kritenbrink, according to The Guardian.
The United States would have agreed if the Chinese base had been set up, the diplomat agreed. “We would have serious concerns and naturally we would have to respond to them,” he said on Tuesday, adding that Americans “of course respect” the sovereignty of the islands.
Kritenbrink no longer wanted to clarify what such an answer would look like. “I will not speculate. “I am not in a position to talk about what the United States will or will not do in such a situation,” he said.
Asked if he could rule out US military action against the Solomon Islands and if he didn’t mind the Australian comment that setting up the base was a “red line” for Canberra, he said: “I have nothing to add to what I’ve said.” watch closely.
Australia also sharpened its rhetoric this week when Secretary of Defense Peter Dutton said in connection with Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and China’s expansion in the Pacific, “the only way you can keep the peace is to prepare for war.” Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce then warned the Solomon Islands that “if a totalitarian regime is invited to the country, it will, of course, affect their sovereignty.”
A possible security threat from a neighbor 2,000 kilometers away has become one of the main topics of the campaign ahead of the election, which awaits Australia in less than a month. The opposition is pushing Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government for not doing more to prevent the agreement.
The exact wording of the Solomon Islands-China agreement remains secret, despite calls from the island’s opposition. The prime minister has indicated that he will only share content with third parties if he gets permission from Beijing. However, he describes the agreement only as a supplement to a similar agreement concluded with Australia, which allows, for example, the presence of Australian police officers in the capital Honiaara.
Uncertainty adds to the concerns of Americans and their allies. “What exactly are the motivations for that agreement? What are China’s goals? ”Kritenbrink asked.
The draft agreement leaked to the Internet at the end of March. And it turned out that the document would actually open the door to the Pacific island state to Chinese soldiers and naval warships. Among other things, China should be able to send police, armed forces, military personnel and other law enforcement agencies to the islands in a number of cases.
The Solomon Islands prime minister confirmed his government has signed a new security agreement with China despite calls from Australia not to sign the pact. https://t.co/UBBkYvhlXP
— The Associated Press (@AP) April 20, 2022
Last week, Beijing reaffirmed its cooperation with Honiara “to maintain social order, protect human security, help fight natural disasters and help ensure national security.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wen-pin added at the time that the cooperation would be “transparent and will not affect any third parties.” He called the US effort to torpedo the agreement “a deliberate attempt to inflate tensions and mobilize rival camps doomed to failure.”
It is not yet very clear exactly what one or the other party will gain by agreement. “Both China and Solomon Islands originally said it would be purely police cooperation. I don’t quite understand what China has for its police so far from its shores on an island, “Etzler said, recalling that the Chinese had recently provided the Solomon Islands with models of police weapons on which local police officers are already training.
However, the leak of part of the document directly from the island parliament has shown that cooperation will be much broader and would allow Chinese vessels to live in a deep-sea port, where heavy ships may be.
“At the same time, the Solomon Islands have recently asked Australia to build a naval base. The Australians have rejected it, saying it would be strategically undiplomatic, because they have the same agreement with Papua New Guinea, which lies a short distance away, “Etzler recalls.
However, China did not hesitate to take a “non-diplomatic” step. He has been fighting economically with Australia for several years. “China first boycotted Australian wine, then coal, which it paid for itself. Those relationships aren’t good at all. Australia is understandably afraid of growing assertiveness and China’s military. And she said explicitly that she was not interested in a Chinese base standing less than 2,000 kilometers from its shores, “said Tomáš Etzler in an interview.
“It is a diplomatic battle between Australia and New Zealand against China. The United States has also announced in the last few weeks that it will open an embassy in Solomon Islands. We are watching the geopolitical battle for the Western Pacific live, “he added.
And Papua New Guinea is now trying to “take advantage” of the aforementioned Papua New Guinea. Kritenbrink’s delegation also visited there and is interested in expanding security cooperation with this country. He is therefore preparing for further negotiations.