China has signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday, despite the US, Australia and New Zealand expressing concerns about Chinese influence in a region.
The announcement from China came as US Indo-Pacific chief Kurt Campbell prepares to fly into Honiara to lobby against the deal. Solomons has yet to publicly confirm if it has fully signed off on the agreement after initialing it with Chinese officials a fortnight ago.
The Pacific island nation switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taiwan in 2019. After it was rocked by anti-Chinese violence in November, China donated anti-riot gear and offered to send police advisers.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin announced the agreement in Beijing, saying it would involve China cooperating with Honiara on maintaining social order, protecting people's safety, aid, combating natural disasters and helping safeguard national security.
The spokesperson stressed that security cooperation between China and Solomon Islands is part of normal exchanges and cooperation between two sovereign and independent countries.
Wang said the cooperation is based on equality and shared benefits and is conducted on the premise of respecting Solomon Islands' will and actual needs.
The two sides will conduct cooperation in fields such as maintaining social order, protecting people's lives and properties, providing humanitarian assistance, and tackling natural disasters, so as to help Solomon Islands strengthen its capabilities in safeguarding national security, he added.
The cooperation is intended to promote social stability and lasting security of Solomon Islands and is in line with the common interests of the country and the South Pacific, he said.
Describing China-Solomon Islands security cooperation as "transparent, open and inclusive," he said it does not target any third country , does not contradict the cooperation between Solomon Islands and other countries, and can complement the existing cooperation mechanisms in the region.
Commenting on the signing of the framework agreement, the government of Solomon Islands said in a statement on March 31 that the move aims to respond to the country's "soft and hard domestic threats."
Solomon Islands "will work with all partners in providing a safe and secure nation where all people are able to co-exist peacefully," according to the statement.
The announcement comes just days after Australia's Minister for the Pacific Zed Seselja travelled to Honiara and met the country's Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in a last-ditch effort to dissuade him from going ahead with the China security deal.
Meanwhile, 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.