Biden's 'Asia Czar' to Visit Solomon Islands Amid US Concerns Over Security Pact With China: Report
09:01 GMT 09.04.2022 (Updated: 18:35 GMT 19.10.2022)
US diplomat Kurt Campbell has argued Washington is entering a “period of intense competition” with China, while the period “described as engagement has come to an end”. He is believed to be the brain behind the trilateral AUKUS security pact. Under AUKUS, the US and UK will help Canberra develop advanced nuclear submarines and hypersonic missiles.
Kurt Campbell, the US coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs
on the National Security Council, will pay a visit to the Pacific nation of the Solomon Islands later this month, British publication the Financial Times reported on Saturday, citing four officials.
Campbell, who has been described as US President Joe Biden's "Asia Czar", will be accompanied by Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and other American officials on the visit, which will take place as the Pacific country prepares to sign a “security cooperation” agreement with Beijing.
The FT report further quoted an unnamed US State Department official's concern that the Sino-Solomon security pact, which is yet to be signed, will “leave the door wide open for future deployment of People’s Republic of China (PRC) security and military forces” on the archipelago in the Pacific Ocean.
“We have concerns about what this might mean for the security interests of our friends across the Pacific Islands”, a State Department official said. “That is very likely to increase tension”, they added.
The proposed “security cooperation”
pact between Beijing and Honiara is designed so that the police and armed forces of the two countries can work together to “protect” the safety of Chinese personnel and projects in the Pacific nation.
The draft agreement, which was leaked on 24 March, also states that Chinese vessels could carry out “logistical replenishments”, “stopovers”, and “transition” in the Solomon Islands. The surfacing of the proposed agreement led to concerns from Australia and New Zealand, who have traditionally been Solomon Islands’ security partners.
Earlier this week, Admiral Samuel J Paparo, the Commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said that “security pact with Beijing was a concern for all of our partners throughout the western Pacific and notably, Australia, New Zealand.”
The concerns were dismissed by the Solomon Islands’ prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, in a speech in parliament on 29 March, when he also officially confirmed the ongoing negotiations with Beijing.
Sogavare described the criticism of the proposed agreement with China as “insulting”, also reassuring his Western partners that the Chinese presence in the nation would not pose a threat to Canberra or Wellington.
He further rejected the charge that the Solomon Islands was planning to host a Chinese military base.
The prime minister also revealed that the Solomon Islands’ previous treaty and security cooperation arrangements with Canberra would remain “in place” and that he “won’t pick sides” in the ongoing geopolitical competition between US allies, such as Australia, and China.
On 31 March, PM Sogavare’s office said in a statement that officials had “initialled” elements of the security cooperation agreement with China and the final agreement would be signed between the two foreign ministers in the coming days.
Meanwhile, Australia, which is located just around 2,000 kilometres from the Solomon Islands, has said that its defence forces would “change our patrolling patterns and our maritime awareness activities”.
"It does change the calculus if Chinese Navy vessels are operating from the Solomon Islands", Lieutenant-General Greg Bilton, the Australian Defence Force's chief of joint operations, said last month.
China, on the other hand, has lashed out at critics of the security pact.
“We hope relevant countries will earnestly respect Solomon Islands’ sovereignty and its independent decisions instead of deciding what others should and should not do in a condescending manner”, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on 29 March.
Honiara switched its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China in 2019, a move that led to greater Chinese involvement in the Pacific nation.
China is also the Solomon Islands’ largest trading partner, and grants duty-free access to 97 percent of exports from the islands.
Last December, Sogavare invited Chinese riot police
to quell the violent demonstrations in the capital Honiara. The protesters were aggrieved by the government’s decision to nix diplomatic support for Taiwan in favour of Beijing.