US pledges to respond to any Chinese military base in Solomon Islands — BenarNews
The United States on Tuesday expressed concerns about a “complete lack of transparency” surrounding a new security agreement between the Solomon Islands and China and pledged to respond to any attempt to establish a Chinese military base in the island nation. .
A draft version of the security pact was leaked on social media in late March, but neither party made public the agreement which was reportedly signed by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Solomon Islands counterpart Jeremiah Manele .
The deal has raised deep concerns from US allies Australia and New Zealand, who say a base on the Solomon Islands could allow China to expand its military reach in the Pacific. It also prompted a rushed visit to the Pacific by two senior Washington diplomats.
U.S. National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink led a U.S. delegation to the capital of the Solomon Islands, Honiara, at the end of last week, where they held a 90-minute “constructive and frank meeting” with the Prime Minister. Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
Kritenbrink told reporters on a conference call on Tuesday that the lack of transparency in the security agreement was “our fundamental concern.”
“I think it’s clear that only a handful of people in a very small circle have seen this deal, and the Prime Minister himself has been quoted publicly as saying he would only share details with the permission of China, which I think is cause for concern as well,” the senior US diplomat said.
“Of course we respect the sovereignty of the Solomon Islands, but we also wanted to let them know that if steps were taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power projection capabilities or military installation, then we would have to important concerns and we would very naturally respond to those concerns,” said Kritenbrink.
The assistant secretary of state declined to elaborate on possible responses to the security implications caused by the new deal, but said Prime Minister Sogavare had given the United States three specific assurances that “there would be no no military base, no long-term presence, no power-projection capability.”
In Washington, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday, Republican Senator Mitt Romney called the deal “alarming.” In response, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he shared the senator’s concern. He reiterated the assurances the US delegation had obtained from Sogavare, adding, “We will be monitoring this very, very closely in the weeks and months to come.”
Sogavare’s remarks did little to calm the neighbors of the Solomon Islands. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a military base would be a “Red line” for Canberra. The islands occupy a remote but strategic location in the western Pacific, approximately 1,700 kilometers (1,050 miles) off the northeast coast of Australia.
Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), said: “I think now that the security agreement has been formally signed, there is not much the United States or Australia can do. to reverse it. The key question now is how quickly China will move to establish a permanent presence, leading to a base in the Solomon Islands.”
“Australia and the United States may try to use diplomacy to convince the Sogavare government not to allow the rapid establishment of this base, or to limit its size and function, but it is unlikely that these efforts are succeeding because it is clear that Sogavare has aligned with China,” Davis said.
“They can also try to further contain Chinese influence in the region by ‘scaling up’ the ‘Pacific Step Up’ and making it more effective,” he said, referring to the Biden administration’s efforts to increase US engagement in the region. He added: “This is more likely to succeed given the regional concern over the Solomon Islands-China signed deal.”
Norah Huang, a research associate at the Prospect Foundation, a Taiwanese think tank, called the deal “opportunism” on the part of Solomon Islands’ prime minister. She said the best response might be “frank discussions with the ruling parties in private to roll back or at least neutralize the deal”.
“But Australia, the United States and New Zealand have to be careful not to reward those who play opportunistically,” Huang said.
Australian Navy officers from HMAS Canberra arrive at the port of Tanjung Priok, as part of the Indo-Pacific Endeavor 2021 military exercise, in Jakarta on October 25, 2021. [Reuters]
Japan has become the latest regional power to send a representative to the Solomon Islands to express concern over the security pact. According to Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, Solomon’s prime minister reiterated to Japanese officials on Tuesday that he has no intention of allowing China to build military bases in his country, Reuters reported.
ASPI’s Davis said the China-Solomon Islands deal could presage a move by Beijing to expand its reach in the South Pacific.
“I think the biggest risk is that China chooses to expand its influence in Papua New Guinea, where it already has substantial investments, and talks openly about a ‘fishing facility’ on Daru Island. , which could eventually serve as the basis for a port”. that could support Chinese coastguard vessels,” he said.
“The United States and Australia, as well as New Zealand, will now have to adjust their defense policies with the prospect of an advanced Chinese military presence in the South West Pacific which certainly greatly increases the military threat to the coast. is Australian, but also severs the sea route of communication between Australia and the United States,” Davis said.
‘Too little, too late’
There have been calls to australia political and defense circles to “prepare for war”, and Davis said there should be a review of Australia’s defense force posture and increased investment in air, sea and space capabilities across the Coral Sea.
Still, the efforts of the United States and its allies “may be too little, too late,” said Andy Mok, senior fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing.
The United States abandoned its embassy in Honiara for nearly 30 years and is only now talking about reopening it.
“In the Pacific, the United States appears to be pursuing a strategy of denial towards China. If China is looking for something, the United States will try to prevent China from achieving it even if it is for the greater good,” Mok said.
Chinese officials maintain that security cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands “is based on equality and mutual benefit”.
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Wang Wen Bin on Monday hit back at criticism of the lack of transparency behind the Solomon Islands security deal, referring to the “AUKUS security partnership which is neither open nor transparent”.
AUKUS is a newly created security grouping between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. China has criticized it as fueling militarization in the Indo-Pacific.
While denying that China would build a military base in the Solomon Islands, calling it “pure misinformation”, Wang said the roughly 800 US bases around the world “have long been a major concern”.
“When will the United States close these bases? He asked.