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11 Jul, 2023 23:47

Beijing signs controversial pact with Solomon Islands

US efforts to lure Honiara back into the Western fold have largely failed
Beijing signs controversial pact with Solomon Islands

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare traveled to Beijing on Monday to sign nine bilateral agreements on economic, technical and policing cooperation with his Chinese counterpart, Premier Li Qiang, as well as President Xi Jinping. 

The agreements included a joint statement released on Tuesday affirming the two countries’ new “comprehensive strategic partnership,” as well as an agreement to “enhance cooperation on law enforcement and security matters” in which China pledged to continue supporting the Solomon Islands with police training and equipment through 2025. 

Beijing has previously trained and supplied replica guns and riot-control equipment to the island nation’s police force, including water cannon vehicles.

Solomon Islands affirmed its support for the One-China policy in the joint statement, which included a less-than-subtle hint to Japan to “prudently handle issues such as the discharge of nuclear contaminated water” from the Fukushima meltdown into the sea, a plan China has long opposed, and a jab at the US and UK project for providing Australia with a nuclear submarine.

Solomon Islands, sir, has a lot to learn from China’s development experience,” Prime Minister Sogavare told the Chinese leaders, adding that he was eager to “further boost relations” between the two nations.

Confirming the nature of the meeting, Li told reporters the two governments had “decided to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership of mutual respect and common development,” remarking favorably on how quickly and advantageously their relationship had developed.

Beijing is looking to expand its Belt and Road Initiative through the Pacific and across Asia and Africa, with a network of ports and other infrastructure, Xi told Sogavare in a later meeting, adding that the country hopes to invest significantly in the Pacific region through existing and startup Chinese companies “without political strings attached.

China understands that Pacific Island countries are facing severe challenges from climate change, and is willing to strengthen exchanges and cooperation,” Xi continued.

Sogavare will formally open Solomon Islands' embassy in Beijing before returning home on Saturday.

Solomon Islands switched diplomatic relations in 2019 from Taiwan to Beijing and announced a major security and diplomatic pact with the country last year. Seemingly blindsided by the move, the US has spent the last year struggling to woo Honiara away from what the Biden administration fears has become its regional military partner, even opening an embassy there in February, its first since 1993.

A State Department delegation visited the Solomon Islands just days after the partnership with China was announced, warning that, should they permit Beijing to establish a military presence there, the US would have to “respond accordingly.” Prime Minister Sogavare repeatedly reassured the Americans that there would be no Chinese military base, long-term presence, or power-projection capability in his country as result of the agreement.