Newly released internal emails from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) revealed that officials in the agency were very alarmed by the news of China and the Solomon Islands signing a security pact.
The Solomon Islands has come under heavy pressure from the US, Australia, and New Zealand over the pact, which was signed in April. The Western nations claim it will lead to China building a military base on the islands, which Solomon Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has repeatedly denied.
The emails were obtained by Al Jazeera using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and show that USAID officials called the pact “very troubling” when news of the plan first broke back in March. A leaked copy of the agreement revealed that China could deploy police to the Solomon Islands under the deal.
“Yikes! This is very troubling,” Ryan Washburn, USAID mission director to the Philippines, Pacific Islands, and Mongolia, said in an email to his colleagues on March 28. After the pact was signed, USAID officials again expressed concern.
Sean Callahan, a USAID regional coordinator for the Pacific Islands and Mongolia, compared the pact to when the Solomon Islands severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 2019 to open up with China, which actually puts the Pacific Island nation in line with Washington’s policy.
“Yes it is deja vu all over again and we had to scramble when the switch happened right before the UNGA [United Nations General Assembly] in September 2019,” Callahan said in an email on April 20. “The press and academia in Canberra and Wellington are making those same comparisons from 2019, too, referring that again we got ‘played’ by the PM.”
Prime Minister Sogavare has slammed the West for all the pressure it has put on the Solomon Islands for its decision to expand security ties with China, likening it to being threatened with an invasion.
“We deplore the continual demonstration of lack of trust by the concerned parties, and tacit warning of military intervention in Solomon Islands if their national interest is undermined in Solomon Islands,” Sogavare told parliament in May. “In other words, we are threatened with invasion.”
The Western criticism of the Solomon-China deal came as the US is funding Ukraine in a proxy war against Russia in the name of supporting a country’s right to choose its military alignment. Leading up to the invasion, Russia asked the US to guarantee Ukraine won’t ever join NATO, but the Biden administration refused to make the promise.