A security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands has raised concerns in the South Pacific Ocean area.
Some nations worry the deal could launch a buildup of China’s military there, threatening neighboring countries.
The Solomon Islands government said an early version of its agreement with China will be “cleaned up” and signed soon. The early version was approved last week.
The draft agreement was leaked online. It says that Chinese warships could stop at the islands. It also would permit China’s armed police and military to protect Chinese projects on the islands.
And the agreement says China must approve what information is shared about joint security plans.
The Solomon Islands is home to about 700,000 people. The nation changed its diplomatic relations from Taiwan to mainland China in 2019. The move was rejected by many in the country and was one reason for violent riots last November.
Both China and the Solomon Islands have strongly denied the deal will lead to the establishment of a Chinese military base. The Solomon Islands government said the agreement is necessary because of its limited ability to deal with violent uprisings like the one in November.
But Australia, New Zealand and the United States have all expressed concern about the deal. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the agreement as “gravely concerning.”
David Panuelo is the president of nearby Micronesia. He wrote a letter to Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare asking him to rethink the agreement.
He noted that both Micronesia and the Solomon Islands were battlegrounds during World War II.
“I am confident that neither of us wishes to see a conflict of that scope or scale ever again, and most particularly in our own backyards,” Panuelo wrote.
The Solomon Islands police minister answered on social media. He said that Panuelo should be more worried about Micronesia being destroyed by the ocean because of climate change.
Sogavare has called foreign criticism of the security agreement insulting.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the agreement aims to maintain the safety of people’s lives and property, and “does not have any military overtones.”
Jonathan Pryke is the director of the Pacific Islands Program at the Lowy Institute, a policy research group in Australia. He said he thinks that leaders have overreacted to the agreement.
“It’s clearly getting everyone very animated in the West and very alarmed. But I don’t think it markedly changes things on the ground,” Pryke said.
He added that the deal could be seen as the first step toward China establishing a military base. But he noted there would need to be many more steps taken before that could happen.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Nick Perry and David Rising reported on this story for the Associated Press. Jonathan Evans adapted this story for Learning English.
Words in This Story
draft –n. a version of a document that is made before a final version
gravely –adv. seriously
confident –adj. having a feeling or belief that something can be done or that something is true;
scope –n. the area that is included in or dealt with by something
overtone –n. an idea or quality that is suggested without being said directly
animated –adj. intense; fully of energy; suggesting possible tension