The Biden administration warned the Solomon Islands on Thursday that if its newly negotiated cooperation deal with China poses a threat to United States or partner interests, the US will take specific action against the South Pacific nation.
A visiting senior US delegation, according to the White House, relayed the message directly to the country’s leadership. According to the White House, the group voiced worry that the transaction with China raises issues about its breadth and purpose, as well as the agreement’s transparency, casting doubt on Solomon Islands authorities’ assurances that the pact was exclusively domestic.
The visit occurred just days after China and the Solomon Islands declared they had signed a security agreement, a move that has rattled neighbors and Western allies concerned about a military buildup in the region.
US delegation noted that there are potential regional security implications
The White House said in a statement that “Solomon Islands representatives indicated that the agreement had solely domestic applications,” but that “the US delegation noted that there are potential regional security implications of the accord, including for the United States and its allies and partners.”
“The United States delegation indicated significant areas of concern with regard to the agreement’s purpose, scope, and transparency,” it stated. “If actions are taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power-projection capabilities, or a military station,” the delegation said, “the US will have serious concerns and will respond appropriately.”
There was no indication of how the United States would react
The US would “watch events closely in conjunction with regional allies,” according to the White House statement, noting that Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare had informed the US that there would be no long-term Chinese presence on the islands and no power projection capacity.
Chinese warships might stop in the Solomon Islands for logistical replenishment, according to a leaked text of the pact, and China could send police and armed troops there “to assist in preserving social order.” The full version of the agreement between the Solomon Islands and China has yet to be disclosed.
In an attempt to resolve the issue, the United States offered, and the Solomon Islands approved, the establishment of a high-level strategic discussion to address mutual concerns. Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council’s Indo-Pacific coordinator, and Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, led the American delegation.
During the visit, the United States discussed plans to reopen an embassy in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, as part of an effort to expand its presence in the strategically vital country amid growing concerns about Chinese influence. Since 1993, the embassy has been shuttered.