BEIJING (REUTERS) - China said on Tuesday (April 19) it had signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, a move set to heighten the concerns among US allies Australia and New Zealand about growing Chinese influence in a region traditionally under their sway.
The framework pact was recently signed by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Manele, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters at a regular briefing in Beijing.
He did not give details of where, or precisely when, the signing took place.
Canberra is concerned that the pact, details of which have not been made public, could be a step towards a Chinese military presence less than 2,000km from Australia.
Earlier on Tuesday the Pacific islands nation was told that China would send officials to the Solomons next month to sign cooperation pacts.
Although the Chinese embassy and Solomon Islands officials had previously initialled a security pact that would allow Chinese police to protect infrastructure and social order, ministers had not yet signed it.
Last week, Mr Zed Seselja, Australia’s minister for international development and the Pacific, visited Honiara to ask Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare not to sign the framework pact.
On Monday, the White House said a high-level US delegation including Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell would also travel to Honiara this week to discuss concerns about China, as well as the reopening of a US embassy.
“Deliberate attempts to inflate tensions and mobilise rival camps are also doomed to fail,” Mr Wang, the Chinese spokesman, said on Tuesday, when asked about the US officials’ scheduled visit.
Honiara’s parliament was told by Mr Douglas Ete, chairman of the public accounts committee and lawmaker for East Honiara, that Chinese foreign ministry officials would arrive next month.
“The PRC foreign affairs is heading to Honiara in the middle of May to sign multilateral agreements and cooperations with the Solomon Islands government,” he said, referring to China.
Mr Ete said the visit meant the two nations would increase cooperation on trade, education and fisheries, but added that he rejected the idea of the Solomons signing a security pact with China to set up a military base.
Mr Sogavare told parliament the proposed security agreement would not include a Chinese military base. His office said it could not confirm which Chinese officials would visit Honiara.