China says it has signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands that has raised concerns among Australia and the United States of a growing Chinese influence in the South Pacific.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing Thursday that the agreement was recently signed by Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele.
According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Wang said the purpose of the new pact is to “promote social stability and long-term peace and security” in the Pacific archipelago and would not target any third party.
A draft of the agreement emerged on social media late last month after the Solomon Islands confirmed it was negotiating a deal with Beijing. The draft included a provision that could allow Beijing to send armed police and soldiers to the Solomons, as well as base its navy ships off the Solomons coast.
The draft agreement raised concern in Canberra and Washington that Beijing would establish a military presence in the Solomon Islands, located less than 2,000 kilometers from Australia. Zed Seselja, Australia’s minister for the Pacific, traveled to the Solomons’ capital, Honiara, to ask Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to not sign the agreement.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang dismissed the concerns about the security pact in his announcement Tuesday, accusing the U.S. and Australia of "deliberately exaggerating tensions,” and that any attempts to interfere are “doomed to fail.”
Prime Minister Sogavare has said the agreement will not include the establishment of a Chinese military base.
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is sending a high-level delegation to Honiara this week to discuss the agreement, as well as the reopening of a U.S. embassy there. The delegation is being led by Kurt Campbell, the White House Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink.
Some information for this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.