US warns Solomon Islands against Chinese military base as Australian MPs take the blame for the trade | Asia-Pacific

The US government has warned the Solomon Islands that it will “respond accordingly” if its security deal with China leads to a Chinese military presence in the Pacific archipelago.

A visiting US delegation, including Indo-Pacific security adviser Kurt Campbell, delivered the message directly to Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, the White House said, as the fallout from the agreement continued to dominate Australia’s federal election campaign.

Details of the agreement have not been made public. But according to a draft of the deal, armed Chinese police could be deployed at the request of the Solomon Islands to maintain “social order”. It would also allow China to “make ship visits to, perform logistical resupply in, and make a stopover and transition in the Solomon Islands”, and Chinese troops could also be used “to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands”.

In a statement, the Biden administration said Sogavare assured the US there would be no long-term Chinese presence on the islands. But the US would nevertheless “follow developments closely in consultation with regional partners”.

“Representatives from the Solomon Islands indicated that the agreement had only domestic applications, but the US delegation noted that there are potential regional security implications of the agreement, including for the United States and its allies and partners,” the White House said in a statement. .

“The US delegation outlined clear concerns regarding the purpose, scope and transparency of the agreement.

“If steps are taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power projection capabilities, or military installation, the delegation noted that the United States would be deeply concerned and would respond accordingly.”

The White House has also pledged to expedite the reopening of its embassy in Honiara.

On Saturday morning, the Australian treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, declined to be called in when the government learned of the agreement.

Earlier this week, the Nine newspapers reported that Australian intelligence agencies were first notified in March and played a role in leaking the draft of the agreement online.

But the Morrison administration’s failure to prevent the deal has been described by the opposition Labor party as the most significant foreign policy failure in the Pacific since World War II.

Frydenberg declined to say when Australia first became aware of the Solomon Islands-China pact, instead saying that “we knew this was always a risk”, adding that “we knew talks were underway “.

He also told Weekend Sunrise that the government could do little more to help the Solomon Islands, describing its existing aid as a “full court press”.

The coalition government continued to try to use the issue to portray Labor as being soft on China, with Frydenberg describing a speech by Labor deputy leader Richard Marles in 2019 as the “biggest story” of the day.

Marles — who campaigned with Jim Chalmers in Brisbane over Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s infection with Covid — confirmed reports that he showed Chinese government officials a copy of a speech he delivered at a university in Beijing in 2019.

“I gave a speech in China criticizing China and I wanted to make sure the Chinese government wouldn’t be at all surprised by what I was going to say,” Marles said.

“The government’s claim is yet another desperate attempt to deviate from their shortcomings in the Pacific.”

Senior Labor MP Tanya Plibersek said Saturday morning the Solomon Islands security pact was the result of “years of neglect” by the Australian government.

When asked what Labor would have done differently than the coalition, she said: “We wouldn’t have ruined our relationship with our Pacific neighbors in the first place.

“It is inexplicable that, having been warned of this, [prime minister] Scott Morrison didn’t say to his Secretary of State, Marise Payne, ‘I want you on the first plane to the Solomon Islands and talk this through.’

Reaction to the deal in the Solomons has been mixed.

Peter Kenilorea, the chairman of the foreign relations committee of the parliament of the Solomon Islands and an opposition MP, described the agreement as only beneficial for China.

At a forum held this week, Kenilorea also questioned Sogavare’s claim that his government had the right to reach an agreement, as it was a sovereign decision.

“I don’t think this is a path we should take or that it is a path that would benefit the Solomon Islands,” he said. “I think the biggest winner here will be the People’s Republic of China, in terms of a foothold in the Pacific.”

He went on to say that “when it comes to security, especially in this heightened geopolitical environment, it is more than a national issue…the region is affected, there are implications”.

Another forum participant, the leading Solomon Islands academic, Dr. Transform Aqorau, said it was alarming that no one outside the government had seen a copy of the signed agreement or been given any details of its contents, but said he saw nothing wrong. with an agreement that strengthened the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF).

But former Solomon Islands Prime Minister and current MP Danny Philip told the same forum the agreement would help ensure Chinese assets in the country would be protected after Australian security forces deployed there failed to do so. His claims were rejected by the Australian authorities.

Associated Press and Australian Associated Press contributed to this report

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