December 2, 2022

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US warns against responding to any permanent Chinese military presence in Solomon

US warns against responding to any permanent Chinese military presence in Solomon

SYDNEY/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A high-level US delegation met the leader of the Solomon Islands on Friday and warned that Washington would have “great concerns and will respond accordingly” to any steps to establish a permanent Chinese military presence in the Pacific. Island people.

A White House statement said that the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavari, assured the visiting delegation headed by the White House Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific region Kurt Campbell that there would be no military base, there would be no long-term presence, and there would be no ability to demonstrate force under a security agreement. Signed. with China.

The White House gave no indication what the US response would be to such a possibility, but its blunt tone indicated the level of US concern that led to sending Campbell’s mission to the remote island nation this week.

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“If steps are taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power projection capabilities, or military facility, the delegation has indicated that the United States will have significant concerns and will respond accordingly,” the delegation said.

The United States confirmed that it will follow developments closely in consultation with regional partners.

The statement said the US delegation outlined specific steps Washington would take to enhance the well-being of Solomon Islanders, including by expediting the opening of an embassy there, enhancing cooperation on unexploded ordnance, and sending a Mercy hospital ship to address health issues. She said Washington would introduce more vaccines and boost climate and health initiatives.

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She said the two sides had “substantive discussions” on the security agreement with China.

“The Solomon Islands representatives indicated that the agreement has only domestic applications, but the US delegation noted that there are potential regional security implications of the agreement, including for the United States, its allies and partners,” the statement said.

The delegation met with Sugavari in Solomon’s capital Honiara days after the Solomon Islands and China announced they had signed a security pact, despite a wave of calls from Washington and its allies urging the island nation not to go ahead with a deal they fear would stretch too far. The deployment of the Chinese army in the region.

The Solomon Islands occupies a strategic position in the Pacific Ocean and was the scene of some of the bloodiest battles in the theater of World War II.

Ignoring international concerns, Sogavary told parliament on Wednesday that the deal would not undermine peace. Read more

The US Embassy in Papua New Guinea said Campbell discussed the security agreement with neighboring Fiji and Papua New Guinea before his visit to Honiara.

Australian officials said Campbell’s visit likely prompted China and the Solomon Islands to declare the deal was a final deal.

While Sugavari has ruled out hosting a Chinese military base, US allies Australia and New Zealand have expressed concerns that the agreement will disrupt regional security, allowing Chinese naval vessels to replenish the Solomon Islands.

Full details were not disclosed, but the agreement will allow Chinese police to protect infrastructure projects funded by China after the country was rocked by riots last year in which four people were killed.

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On Friday, Sugavari joined China’s ambassador, Li Ming, in handing over an athletics stadium donated by China, one of the $120 million sports facility that China paid for to help the Solomon Islands host the 2023 Pacific Games.

The Solomon Islands changed diplomatic relations from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, and Sogavari said in a speech at the ceremony that the decision “put the country on the right side of history.”

Lee defended the security agreement.

“Development and security are two sides of the same coin. Without safety and security, countries cannot enjoy sustainable development and economic growth. This was demonstrated in the riots last year,” he said in a speech.

For Australia, the security agreement raises the possibility of a Chinese military presence less than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from its shores. Read more

New Zealand and Tonga said they would raise the issue at the upcoming Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting, while Japan plans to send its deputy foreign minister to the Solomon Islands this month, Kyodo News reported.

Experts said the United States would have few attractive options to respond to any Chinese moves toward establishing a permanent military presence in the Solomon Islands.

“You could cut aid, which would push the Solomon Islands into more of a Chinese embrace,” said Din Cheng, a China expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst focusing on the Indo-Pacific region for RAND Corporation, said the United States could also accelerate opportunities to establish bases in northeastern Australia to monitor Chinese forces, or conduct more naval patrols in the region.

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“That doesn’t mean that none of these options will work. It probably won’t work,” Grossman said. “I think the US and Australia were way behind the game here, and China scored their first security foothold in Oceania.”

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Additional reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney, David Bronstrom, Michael Martina and Chris Gallagher in Washington; Editing by William Mallard, Robert Percell and Jonathan Otis

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