China, Solomon Islands sign controversial security pact: Official

The Solomon Islands said it had inked a wide-ranging security pact with China. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONIARA (AFP) - The Solomon Islands on Thursday (March 31) said it had inked a wide-ranging security pact with Beijing, an agreement Western allies fear will pave the way for a first Chinese military foothold in the South Pacific.

"Officials of Solomon Islands and the People's Republic of China have initialled elements of a bilateral Security Cooperation Framework between the two countries today," said a statement from the Prime Minister's Office in Honiara.

The Solomon Islands confirmed last Friday it was creating a partnership with China to address security threats and ensure a safe environment for investment as part of a diversification of its security relations.

Australia and New Zealand had expressed their concern about the impact on regional security of military cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands after a draft document outlining proposed cooperation was leaked last week.

A security pact would be a major inroad for China in a region that United States allies Australia and New Zealand have for decades seen as their "backyard".

The security pact with China would match one the Solomon Islands has with Australia that allows for the deployment of armed forces.

The Australian security treaty was signed before Solomon Islands switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019.

The potential for Chinese military vessels to be based in Australia's neighbourhood has sparked alarm in Canberra, which clashed verbally with Beijing last month after a Chinese navy ship passing through Australia's northern economic exclusion zone aimed a laser pointer at an Australian surveillance plane.

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