Sydney/Beijing (Times Of Ocean) – China announced on Tuesday that it had signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, setting off concerns among the United States, Australia, and New Zealand over growing Chinese influence in a region traditionally under their dominion.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, told reporters at a regular briefing in Beijing that Wang Yi and Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele had recently signed the framework pact.
No details were given about where or when the signing took place.
Beijing appeared to have made the announcement ahead of the arrival of White House officials in Honiara.
Beijing is concerned that the pact, whose details have not been released, could lead to Chinese military presence less than 2,000 km (1,200 miles) from Australia.
According to Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, the country is “deeply disappointed” and continues to seek clarification on the terms of the agreement, noting the signing had been announced by the Chinese government.
“We are concerned about the lack of transparency with which this agreement has been negotiated, noting that it can undermine stability in our region,” she said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
ABC reports Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare will make an announcement in the coming days.
China will send officials to the Solomon Islands next month to sign cooperation pacts, the Solomon Islands parliament was told earlier on Tuesday.
Though Chinese embassy officials and Solomon Islands officials had already initialled a security pact that would allow Chinese police to protect infrastructure and social order, ministers had not yet signed it.
Zed Seselja, Australia’s minister for international development and the Pacific, visited Honiara last week to ask Sogavare not to sign the security pact.
The White House announced Monday that a high-level U.S. delegation, including Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell, will visit Honiara this week to discuss concerns about China, as well as the reopening of a U.S. embassy.
“Any efforts to inflame tensions and mobilise rival camps are also doomed to fail,” Wang, the Chinese spokesman, said on Tuesday, when asked about the U.S. officials’ scheduled visit.
Douglas Ete, chairman of Honiara’s public accounts committee and a lawmaker for East Honiara, told the parliament that Chinese foreign ministry officials will arrive next month.
“The Chinese Foreign Ministry will be in Honiara in May to sign multilateral agreements and cooperations with the Solomon Islands government,” he said, referring to China.
Ete said the visit would increase cooperation between the two countries in trade, education, and fisheries, but he rejected the idea of the Solomons signing a security pact with China to establish a military base.
According to Sogavare, the proposed security agreement would not include a Chinese military base.