President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday threatened to “respond accordingly” if China establishes a permanent military base in the Solomon Islands after the two nations signed a security agreement last month that will allow China to maintain armed police and resupply its visiting warships.
“If steps are taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power-projection capabilities, or a military installation, the delegation noted that the United States would then have significant concerns and respond accordingly,” the White House said in a statement on Friday.
The statement came while announcing senior administration officials’ visit to the Solomon Islands where they met with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and “engaged in substantial discussion” about the agreement signed with China.
“Solomon Islands representatives indicated that the agreement had solely domestic applications, but the U.S. delegation noted there are potential regional security implications of the accord, including for the United States and its allies and partners,” the statement added.
A leaked draft of the China-Solomon Islands deal ahead of its signing stipulated that China would be permitted to send security personnel armed with pistols, rifles, machine guns and a sniper rifle to the Solomon Islands after riots broke out in Honiara near the Chinese embassy last year.
The draft also said China would be allowed to “make ship visits to, carry out logistical replenishment in, and have stopover and transition in Solomon Islands”
Although a final draft of the agreement has not yet been released, Solomon Islands officials said they had accepted China’s terms without objection because they “could not guarantee the safety of the [Chinese] Embassy and staff.”
In response to concerns over the regional implications of a Chinese presence, the Soloman Islands government added, “there is nothing to be concerned about.”
The potential of China developing a base and bolstering a military presence in the Pacific has raised concerns from U.S., Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the China-Solomon Islands agreement “gravely concerning.” U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Samuel J. Paparo said he was “undoubtedly concerned” about the agreement.
While the agreement does not specifically allow for China to establish a military base, it could pave the way to allow it later on.
China has denied that it plans to build a military base in the Solomon Islands and condemned those concerned about the agreement.
“The region should not be considered a ‘backyard’ of other countries,” China said.