U.S. officials to Solomons amid concerns over draft security pact with China: NPR

U.S. officials to Solomons amid concerns over draft security pact with China: NPR

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell speaks at a news conference at the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Thursday, December 13, 2012.

Lai Seng Sin / AP


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Lai Seng Sin / AP


US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell speaks at a news conference at the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Thursday, December 13, 2012.

Lai Seng Sin / AP

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – The United States is sending two top officials to the Solomon Islands following a visit by an Australian senator last week over concerns that China could establish a military presence in the South Pacific island nation.

The White House said on Monday that later this week Kurt Campbell, Indo-Pacific Coordinator of the National Security Council, and Daniel Kritenbrink, Assistant Secretary of State for East and Pacific Affairs, will lead a delegation of U.S. government officials to Solomon, and will also visit Fiji. and Papua New Guinea.

The move comes after the Solomon Islands and China last month initialed a draft agreement on a security pact in which the Solomon Islands said they would soon sign a final version.

The draft, which was leaked online, says Chinese warships could stop in the Solomon Islands and that China could send police and armed forces there “to help maintain social order.”

The Solomon Islands have tried to downplay the significance of the agreement, saying it will not lead to China establishing a military base there, but many neighboring countries and Western nations remain concerned.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the deal could destabilize the Solomon Islands and would set a worrying precedent for the wider Pacific region.

“Despite the comments of the Solomon Islands Government, the broad nature of the security agreement leaves the door open for the deployment of PRC (People’s Republic of China) military forces to the Solomon Islands,” Price said.

The US trip comes after a visit to the Solomon Islands last week by Australian Senator Zed Seselja, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

Seselja said he met with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and asked him to abandon the Chinese deal.

“We have respectfully asked the Solomon Islands not to consider signing the agreement and to consult the Pacific family in a spirit of regional openness and transparency, in line with our region’s security framework,” Seselja said in a statement.

The Solomon Islands portrayed the meeting in a more positive light, saying that Sogavare and Seselja held productive discussions on security issues in the Solomon Islands and the wider Pacific region.

Last week, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke with Solomon Islands Secretary of State Jeremiah Manele about Washington’s plan to reopen an embassy in the capital, Honiara.

The announcement of the reopening of the embassy, ​​which has been closed since 1993, came in February before the security pact came out, but amid already growing concerns about Chinese influence in the strategically important country.

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