China has announced that it has signed a controversial security agreement with the Solomon Islands

China announced Tuesday, April 19, that it has signed a wide-ranging security agreement with the Solomon Islands, at a time when several Western countries, led by the United States, advance Beijing’s military ambitions in the Pacific. The agreement was signed by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Solomon Islands counterpart Jeremiah Manele. No details were given about the exact location or date of the signing.

Chinese embassy officials and Solomon Islands previously signed a letter of intent to send Chinese police and military as needed to protect infrastructure and social order, but the agreement has not been ratified by governments.

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In March, a preliminary version of the agreement was leaked. The document then caused a shock wave, because it contained proposals to allow the deployment of Chinese security forces and the Navy in the Pacific archipelago.

The Solomon Islands at the end of 2021 were rocked by deadly riots, fueled by the resentment of part of the population against the growing influence of China. Chinese-owned businesses have been vandalized and burned in Honiara, the capital of this South Pacific archipelago.

China has been one of the actors in the region to deploy peacekeeping forces to the Solomon Islands at the request of the government. Since then, Beijing, which has sent police trainers and riot control equipment, has sought to bolster the island’s protection system.

It’s cooperation “Normal between two sovereign and independent states”Chinese diplomatic spokesman Wang Wenbin defended. The agreement will support Long term stability He argued in the Solomon Islands.

An American delegation is expected to arrive in Honiara

In early April, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavari confirmed that he would not allow the construction of a Chinese military base in his country, but this was not enough to allay the fears of Australia and its allies. Australia, the great neighbor of Solomon, is located 1,500 km from the archipelago.

Canberra and Washington have long worried that China could build a naval base in the South Pacific that would allow it to project its naval power beyond its borders.

In recent weeks, Australia and the United States have intensified diplomatic efforts to discourage the Solomon Islands from approaching Beijing. “We believe that the signing of such an agreement would further destabilize the Solomon Islands and set a worrying precedent for the Pacific Islands region as a whole.”a spokesman for US diplomacy, Ned Price, said Monday.

Meanwhile, the United States announced the dispatch of a high-level diplomatic delegation to tour the Pacific, with the Solomon Islands as a priority to counter Beijing’s ambitions. Last week, the Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific Region, Zed Sesilga, was dispatched to Honiara for an extraordinary meeting with the archipelago’s prime minister.

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historical rivalry

In November, riots rocked this country of 800,000 people for three days. The reasons for this violence were manifold. Combined with anger at the government and economic hardship exacerbated by the pandemic, has been a historical rivalry between the inhabitants of the country’s most populous island, Malaita, and those of Guadalcanal, where the country’s administrative capital is located.

But the prime minister, Mr. Sogavari, has also been accused of wanting closer ties with Beijing after he abruptly cut long-standing ties with Taiwan in 2019. China opposes any diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, which it considers part of its territory. Communist power in Beijing makes it a prerequisite for establishing diplomatic relations with other countries.

As Washington seeks to bolster its presence in the region to counter Chinese influence, the United States announced in February that it was reopening its embassy in the Solomon Islands, twenty-nine years after it was closed.

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Le Monde with Agence France-Presse and Reuters

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