U.S. delegation meets with Solomon Island officials over China

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April 22 (UPI) — Solomon Island Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told a high-level U.S. delegation on Friday that its agreement with China did not include a long-term military presence or military bases there.

The United States earlier this week expressed alarm over a security deal in the works between China and the Solomon Islands, indicating Beijing’s growing influence in the region.

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The leaked agreement would allow Beijing to send naval deployments and security forces to the island nation, located 1,200 miles from Australia. The deal was criticized throughout the region, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, which have strong ties with the United States and the West.

“Solomon Islands representatives indicated that the agreement had solely domestic applications, but the U.S. delegation noted there are potential regional security implications of the accord, including for the United States and its allies and partners,” the White House said in a readout of the meeting.

“The U.S. delegation outlined clear areas of concern with respect to the purpose, scope and transparency of the agreement.”

The U.S. delegation included National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink, Deputy Commander INDOPACOM Lt. Gen. Stephen Sklenka and USAID Acting Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia Craig Hart.

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The delegation said that while it respected the sovereignty of the island, their decision to establish closer ties with China has implications throughout the region.

“If steps are taken [by China] to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power-projection capabilities, or a military installation, the delegation noted that the United States would then have significant concerns and respond accordingly,” the readout said.

“In response to these enumerated concerns, Prime Minister Sogavare reiterated his specific assurances that there would be no military base, no long-term presence and no power projection capability, as he has said publicly.”

The Solomon Islands stop was the final leg of the delegation’s trip across the Pacific, preceded by stops in Hawaii, where the delegation met with senior officials from Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Fiji.