China said Tuesday that it had signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands that has drawn criticism from the US and its allies in the region.
According to a leaked draft of the agreement, it would allow China to send police and dock ships in the Solomon Islands. But at this point, details aren’t known as it’s not clear what measures were included in the final version of the pact.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Beijing is helping the Solomon Islands “strengthen its capacity building to maintain its own security” in areas that include “maintaining social order, protecting people’s lives and property, humanitarian assistance and natural disaster response.”
Australia, which is about 1,200 miles south of the Solomon Islands, has warned the pact could lead to China establishing a military base. But the Solomon Islands has insisted building a Chinese base is not part of the deal.
Last week, the Pentagon claimed the pact could “destabilize” the region. “We believe that signing such an agreement could actually increase destabilization within the Solomon Islands and could set a concerning precedent for the wider Pacific Island region,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
On Tuesday, the White House expressed concern about the pact. “We are concerned by the lack of transparency and unspecified nature of this agreement, which follows a pattern of China offering shadowy, vague deals with little regional consultation in fishing, resource management, development assistance and now security practices,” a spokesperson for the National Security Council said.
The signing of the deal came a day after the US announced it was sending high-level officials to the Solomon Islands. “After many years, the senior US officials suddenly are visiting a Pacific island country with great fanfare. We are curious whether they really care about the island country or have another agenda,” Wang said of the planned trip.
Wang said the US was “exaggerating tension and provoking confrontation” by its reaction to the security pact. “What we are saying is that the Pacific island countries are not anyone’s backyard, let alone pawns in a geopolitical confrontation,” he said.
China’s move to sign the deal comes amid US efforts to build alliances against Beijing in the region. Last year, the US signed the AUKUS military pact with the UK and Australia that will give Canberra nuclear-powered submarines that could be used to patrol waters near China. The AUKUS countries recently announced they would also work to develop hypersonic missiles.