A display case of photos is seen outside the Chinese Embassy in Honiara, Solomon Islands, April 2, 2022. Australia’s Minister for International

CANBERRA, Australia: (AP) — Australia and the United States are stepping up diplomatic outreach to the Solomon Islands after China signed a security deal with the South Pacific island nation that could lead to Beijing establishing a military presence there.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Wednesday that his minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja, had flown to the Solomon Islands the day before for talks with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on the April 1 security pact the country agreed to with China.

Seselja said he had asked Sogavare to abandon the Chinese agreement.

“We have asked Solomon Islands respectfully to consider not signing the agreement and to consult the Pacific family in the spirit of regional openness and transparency, consistent with our region’s security frameworks,” Seselja said in a statement.

The trip came the same day that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke with Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele about Washington’s plan to reopen an embassy in the capital, Honiara.

The announcement of reopening the embassy, which has been closed since 1993, came in February before the security pact came to light, but amid already growing concerns about Chinese influence in the strategically important country.

A Chinese military presence in the Solomon Islands would put it not only on the doorstep of Australia and New Zealand but also in close proximity to Guam, with its massive U.S. military bases.

At the time he announced the embassy’s reopening, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was seeking to increase its influence in the Solomon Islands before China becomes “strongly embedded.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the call between Sherman and Manele touched on “our joint efforts to broaden and deepen engagement between our countries,” in addition to the embassy plans, but gave no further details.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian defended Beijing’s cooperation with the Solomons as being based on “the principle of mutual respect and mutual benefit” and in line with international law and international practice.

“It is conducive to the social stability and lasting peace and safety of Solomon Islands and will help promote peace, stability and development of Solomon Islands and the rest of South Pacific region,” Zhao told reporters Wednesday at a daily briefing.

“The security cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands does not target any third party or work in opposition to the Solomon Islands’ cooperation with other countries, but will complement the exiting regional cooperation mechanism in a positive way,” he said.

He added that other countries “should view this in an objective and reasonable manner, respect the sovereignty and independent decision of China and the Solomon Islands, avoid provoking confrontation and creating division in the region, and do something conducive to regional stability and development.”

According to a draft of the agreement, which was leaked online, Chinese warships could stop in the Solomons for “logistical replenishment” and China could send police, military personnel and other armed forces to the Solomons “to assist in maintaining social order.”

The draft agreement specifies China must approve what information is disclosed about joint security arrangements, including at media briefings.

The Solomon Islands government have said a draft was initialed two weeks ago and that it would be “cleaned up” and finalized soon.

The Solomon Islands government has said it won’t allow China to build a military base there and China has denied seeking a military foothold in the South Pacific, but the pact set off alarm bells among many Western nations.

Since it was signed, two top Australian intelligence officials — Australian Secret Intelligence Service boss Paul Symon and Office of National Intelligence Director-General Andrew Shearer — have met Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

Australia already has a bilateral security pact with the Solomon Islands and Australian police peacekeepers have been in the capital, Honiara, since riots in November.

Morrison said Australia was respectfully and directly communicating with the Solomon Islands on the Chinese security deal.

“The suggestion that somehow, some seem to be making, that the Solomon Islands is somehow under the control of Australia I think is offensive to the Solomon Islands,” Morrison said.

“They are a sovereign nation. I respect their independence and they will make their own decisions about their own sovereignty,” he said.

“What we have been doing is ensuring that they are fully aware of the risks and the security matters that are not only of concern to Australia but islands, Pacific nations across the Pacific,” he added.

Seselja said Australia also welcomed statements from Sogavare that it remains the Solomon Islands’ “security partner of choice, and his commitment that Solomon Islands will never be used for military bases or other military institutions of foreign powers.”

Morrison announced on Sunday that an election will be held in Australia on May 21. He now leads a caretaker government and must consult the opposition on any policy decisions.

Opposition spokeswoman on foreign affairs Penny Wong said the Australian government had failed on the Solomon Islands.

“This is happening on Mr. Morrison’s watch – the warnings have been there for months, the draft agreement public for weeks – but he has failed to front up and explain how Australia is responding,” Wong said in a statement.

“We need to work with the Pacific family and allies to build a region where sovereignty is respected – and where Australia is the partner of choice,” she added.

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Solomon Islands: West fears Chinese foothold in South Pacific

Officials from both China and the Solomon Islands have yet to formally sign a security pact that the islands’ South Pacific neighbors, as well as the United States, claim could threaten regional stability.

Washington and Canberra have had long-standing concerns about China possibly building a naval base in the South Pacific. Such a development would allow Beijing to project its naval power much further than it can at present.

The Solomon Islands, east of Papua New Guinea and home to some 700,000 people, switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019.

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India boosts military presence as
border talks with China remain stalled


On volatile border between India and China, a high-altitude military buildup is underway

0003

A close-up of a heliport under construction in Rutog County.

0001

On volatile border between India and China, a high-altitude military buildup is underway

0004

Construction crews are now scattered around Ladakh as Indian authorities speed up their infrastructure race with China.

0005

An overview of a heliport under construction near Aksai Chin Lake, in a region administered by China but contested by India, on May 28.

0002

An overview of a heliport under construction in Rutog County in the Ngari Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, on Nov. 28.

0003 0001 0004 0005 0002

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

Runway

Runway

China is expanding the construction of its facilities on Fiery Cross Reef. Provided by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), this June 28, 2015 photo reveals Beijing has nearly completed a 3,000 meter (9,800-foot) airstrip, long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft. Two h...

Expansion

Expansion

Reclamation on Fiery Cross Reef, which lies on the west side of the Spratly Islands, began in August of 2014 and its principal landmass was finished by November. Dredgers have created a land mass that spans the entire existing reef and is approximately 3,000 meters long and 200-300 meters wide.

Facilities

Facilities

This picture taken last November shows construction work being carried out on Fiery Cross Reef. The reef reportedly already houses a helicopter landing pad, a 300-meter-long wharf, a harbor large enough to dock military tankers, barracks and artillery emplacements.

South Johnson Reef

South Johnson Reef

This reef was one of the first facilities to finish principal land reclamation. This recent picture shows that a radar tower is nearing completion at the north end of the land mass. According to AMTI, a new large multi-level military facility has been built in the center of the island. Up to six sur...

A naval base?

A naval base?

Beginning in early 2015, Mischief Reef - also located in the Spratlys - has undergone extensive reclamation activity. Experts say that the recent widening of the southern entrance to the reef, coupled with sightings of Chinese navy vessels, may suggest a future role for the reclaimed reef as a naval...

From reef to island

From reef to island

Significant construction on Gaven Reef began in 2014, with a total of 114,000 square meters of land already created. Satellite pictures show just how fast construction has progressed on the reef. A new artificial island was created between March (left) and August (right) 2014.

Troop garrison

Troop garrison

According to AMTI, China has had a troop garrison on Gaven Reef since 2003, which has included a large supply platform where ships can dock. Experts say a new main square building in the reef appears to be an anti-aircraft tower.

A standardized process

A standardized process

As seen in this image, the basic process of expanding these features involves dredging sand from the seafloor and dumping it onto the reefs. The structure is raised above the high water line, hiding the status of the bank or reef beneath. The sand is then smoothed out and workers surround the island...

'Historic rights'

'Historic rights'

China claims most of the potentially energy-rich waterway, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The US Pacific Fleet commander recently said China was "creating a great wall of sand" in the South China Sea, causing serious concerns about its territorial intentions. Beijin...

Territorial disputes

Territorial disputes

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims, which have led to territorial disputes in the area. Last summer, China's deployment of a massive oil rig in waters also claimed by Hanoi escalated tensions in the region, sparking a standoff at sea and violent anti-C...

US concerns

US concerns

Washington is concerned China's efforts carry a military dimension that could undermine the US' naval and economic power in the Pacific, and has weighed sending warships and surveillance aircraft within 12 nautical miles of the new artificial islands. Washington has repeatedly called on Beijing and ...

Ecological impact

Ecological impact

The Philippines filed a formal plea at the UN last year, challenging Beijing's territorial claims. Manila said China's reclamation activities are causing "irreversible and widespread damage to the biodiversity and ecological balance of the South China Sea." It also claimed that the destruction of co...

Runway Expansion Facilities South Johnson Reef A naval base? From reef to island Troop garrison A standardized process 'Historic rights' Territorial disputes US concerns Ecological impact

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