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China signs security agreement with Solomon Islands

April 19, 2022

The US and its allies in the region have warned the move could give Beijing a stronger foothold in the Pacific. The Solomon Islands' prime minister says the deal does not include plans for a Chinese military base.

China's embassy in the Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands has been building stronger ties with China Image: Charley Piringi/AP/picture alliance

China on Tuesday confirmed it had sealed a security pact with the Solomon Islands.

"The foreign ministers of China and the Solomon Islands officially signed the framework agreement on security cooperation recently," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a press briefing.

The United States has warned that this could give China a military foothold in the South Pacific. Regional US allies Australia and New Zealand have also expressed concerns.

What do we know about the pact?

Soloman Islands lawmaker Douglas Ete said that Chinese officials would visit in May for the signing of multilateral agreements.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said that the proposed pact does not include a Chinese military base on Solomon Islands' territory.

A copy of the pact leaked late in March stipulated that the Solomon Islands "may request China to send police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces" and that Beijing could send ships for stopovers and to replenish supplies.

The signing of the pact follows unrest that broke out in the archipelago in 2021 after the Solomon Islands switched recognition to Beijing from Taiwan.

The riots were fueled by unemployment and rivalries between residents of the islands of Malaita and Guadalcanal. Businesses in the capital Honiara's Chinatown were also burned and looted in the riots.

Honiara, Solomon Islands
Unrest broke out in Solomon Islands capital Honiara in 2021Image: Mavis Podokolo/AFP/Getty Images

More than 200 peacekeepers were deployed from Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand to restore calm. China donated anti-riot gear and offered to send police advisors to help quell the riots.

Western concern

Last week, Zed Seselja, Australia's minister for international development and the Pacific, visited Honiara and asked Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare not to sign the pact.

Australia and New Zealand have long seen the Pacific as their "backyard" and see the security pact as a threat to their interests in the region.

The Solomon Islands signed a security arrangement with Australia in 2017, which Honiara says will be unaffected by the security pact with Beijing.

On Monday, the White House said a US delegation would also travel to Honiara to discuss concerns about China and the reopening of the Solomons' US embassy.

"Deliberate attempts to inflate tensions and mobilize rival camps are also doomed to fail," Wang said on Tuesday when asked about the US delegation's visit.

sdi/wmr (AP, AFP, Reuters)