Solomon Islands agreed to sign an agreement between the United States and more than 12 Pacific nations. But it did so only after indirect references to China were removed, Solomon Islands' foreign minister said Tuesday.
“There were some references that put us in a position where we’ll have to choose sides, and we did not want to be placed in a position where we have to choose sides,” Jeremiah Manele told reporters in Wellington, New Zealand.
His comment was the first time Solomon Islands has publicly admitted it had concerns about the agreement.
The agreement was signed in Washington, D.C. last week. President Joe Biden told visiting Pacific leaders that the United States was increasing its presence in the area and becoming a bigger partner to Pacific countries.
The administration said the U.S. would add $810 million in new aid for Pacific Island nations over the next 10 years. The meeting came during growing U.S. concern about China’s military and economic influence in the Pacific.
But the final agreement centered mainly on issues like climate change, economic growth and natural disasters. A small section on security contained mostly general language. While it denounced Russia's invasion of Ukraine, it made no mention of China.
Before the meeting, diplomats had said Solomon Islands was signaling it was unlikely to sign the agreement. That would have been a diplomatic setback for both the U.S. and the Pacific nations.
The U.S. and others have been concerned about the increasing ties between Solomon Islands and China. The two nations signed a security agreement earlier this year.
“In the initial draft, there were some references that we were not comfortable with, but then with the officials, after discussions and negotiations, we were able to find common ground," Manele said.
Manele later admitted to reporters the draft had contained indirect references to China.
He said the Solomon Islands security agreement with China had no plans in it for China to build a military base, as some had feared.
In a report released Wednesday, researchers at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said China has attempted to weaken the Solomon Islands' relationship with Australia and the U.S. China has done so by spreading false information through local and social media networks in Solomon Islands.
The researchers said they collected data after riots that happened in the capital last November. They did so again after details of the security agreement with China became public in March. They found the Chinese Communist Party used Facebook groups along with certain reporters and decision-makers to push its message.
The researchers said one false story pushed by the Chinese was that Australia, the U.S. and Taiwan had started the riots and spread unrest in the nation.
I’m Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
reference — n. the act of mentioning something in speech or in writing : the act of referring to something or someone
draft — n. a version of something that you make before you make the final version
comfortable — adj. not causing any physically unpleasant feelings : producing physical comfort