Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare announced on Wednesday that the government had signed a security agreement with China the day before, raising concerns among Western nations.
Sogavare emphasized to the National Parliament of Solomon Islands that the agreement would “not adversely impact or undermine the peace and harmony” of the region.
The news comes just a few days before the U.S. was scheduled to make a visit. On Monday morning, the White House announced in a press briefing that the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink and National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell would be leading a delegation of U.S. government officials later in the week to the Solomon Islands, as well as Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
A draft of the agreement suggesting that China would be allowed to deploy forces in the area was leaked last month. Sogavare had previously claimed last month that the country had “no intention whatsoever” to “ask China to build a military base”; however, it is unclear whether he still stands by that statement. He also assured at the time that the country was not “pressured in any way” to do so by their “new friends.”
Last month, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had expressed her concerns about the pact prior to the signing. She told public broadcaster Radio NZ, “We see such acts as a potential militarization of the region and also see very little reason in terms of the Pacific security for such a need and such a presence.”
She added, “We do see this as gravely concerning.”
Similarly, Australia’s Prime Minister sent his Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja last Wednesday to pay a visit to the Islands to try to dissuade Sogavare from signing the agreement.
The archipelagic nation of 900 or so islands has approximately 700,000 inhabitants and is situated just 1,240 miles northeast of Australia. The southwest Pacific region, which includes the Solomon Islands and New Zealand, has historically been an area dominated by Western influences.
Despite its small size, the country remains extremely historically significant, playing a consequential role in World War II. The Allied forces’ victory in the region put the Japanese army at a critical disadvantage, crippling its ability to get resources and plan attacks.
While the details of the agreement are unclear, the new partnership signifies an undeniable shift in political alliances in the Indo-Pacific region. It also comes as no surprise considering China has been steadily investing and building its presence in the country for the past decade, including a $500 million “donation” for severing its 36-year-old ties with Taiwan in 2019.