WELLINGTON – The Biden administration on Thursday warned the Solomon Islands that the United States will take unspecified action against the South Pacific nation should its recently concluded cooperation agreement with China pose a threat to U.S. or allied interests.
The White House said the message was delivered directly to the country’s leadership by a visiting senior U.S. delegation. The delegation expressed concern that the deal with China raises questions about its scope and purpose, according to the White House, which also lamented transparency in the agreement and cast doubt on Solomon Islands' officials' claims that the deal was purely domestic.
The visit came just days after China and the Solomons confirmed they had signed a security pact, a development that has alarmed neighboring countries and Western allies who fear a military buildup in the region.
“Solomon Islands representatives indicated that the agreement had solely domestic applications, but the U.S. delegation noted there are potential regional security implications of the accord, including for the United States and its allies and partners,” the White House said in a statement.
“The U.S. delegation outlined clear areas of concern with respect to the purpose, scope, and transparency of the agreement,” it said. “If steps are taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power-projection capabilities, or a military installation, the delegation noted that the United States would then have significant concerns and respond accordingly.”
There was no indication of what the U.S. response might be.
The White House statement noted that Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare had assured the U.S. there would be no long-term Chinese presence on the islands and no power projection capability but stressed that the U.S. would “follow developments closely in consultation with regional partners.”
A draft of the pact, which was leaked online, said Chinese warships could stop in the Solomon Islands for logistical replenishment and China could send police and armed forces there “to assist in maintaining social order.” The Solomons and China have not released the final version of the agreement.
In a bid to deal with the matter, the U.S. proposed, and the Solomon Islands accepted, a proposal to launch a high-level strategic dialogue that would address mutual concerns. The U.S. delegation was led by Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council Indo-Pacific coordinator, and Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
During the visit, the U.S. side also discussed its plans to reopen an embassy in the Solomons capital of Honiara, as it tries to increase its presence in the strategically important country amid growing concerns about Chinese influence. The embassy has been closed since 1993.
AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed.