The U.S. is sending two top officials to the Solomon Islands following a visit last week by an Australian senator over concerns that China could establish a military presence in the South Pacific island nation.
The White House said Monday that later this week, Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council Indo-Pacific coordinator, and Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, will lead a delegation of U.S. government officials to the Solomons, and will also visit Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
The move comes after the Solomons and China initialed a draft agreement of a security pact last month, with the Solomons saying they would sign a final version soon.
The draft, which was leaked online, says Chinese warships could stop in the Solomons and China could send police and armed forces there “to assist in maintaining social order.”
According to a draft agreement that began circulating online last month, the Solomon Islands could request Chinese security forces to restore "social order." Once on the islands, they'd also have the authority to "protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects."
Rumblings of a deal came just weeks after Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced in February that the U.S. would open an embassy in Honiara, the capital, to increase engagement with the islands, where there has been a fierce internal debate about relations with China.
Senior U.S. officials have been placing calls to Honiara, and the State Department and Pentagon have issued warnings about the "export" of China's security forces and the "concerning precedent" for the region.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison dispatched a senior diplomat to the islands and described the pending deal as a "great concern," with New Zealand echoing that sentiment.
The deal could both see Chinese naval vessels docking about 1,250 miles to the northeast of Australia, and signal that Canberra's traditional influence in the South Pacific is waning.
However, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare rejected the "very insulting" suggestions that his country was "unfit to manage our sovereign affairs."
He has said the Solomon Islands won't allow China to build a military base, but is "diversifying" its security partnerships.
He recently told parliament he's prepared to sign the deal, per WSJ.
U.S. officials, led by White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink, will try to change his mind. Accompanied by USAID, they'll "be talking about a range of ways to offer assistance in the region," the administration official said.