Top US Diplomat Dispatched to Solomon Islands Over Chinese Security Pact: Report

The U.S. government has reportedly dispatched top official Kurt Campbell to the Solomon Islands as concerns mount over a security agreement that will open the door for Beijing to station troops and weaponry in the region.Campbell, the U.S. National Security Council coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, is set to travel to the Pacific nation in April, accompanied by Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, according to the Financial Times. Diplomatic efforts have ramped up after details of the agreement were leaked on social media—alerting neighbouring countries of the potential militarization of the region akin to the South China Sea. The former Asia Group Chairman and CEO Kurt Campbell attends the China Development Forum in Beijing, China, on March 23, 2019. (Thomas Peter/Reuters) Campbell’s visit follows that of two Australian heads of intelligence to Solomons’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on April 6—Andrew Shearer, director-general of the Office of National Intelligence, and Paul Symon, director-general of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service. Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton also revealed that the high commissioner, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the (federal) police commissioner, had all been engaging with Solomon Islands authorities “both in private” and publicly, according to comments to reporters. The contentious agreement, which has been “initialled” by the foreign representatives for Beijing and the Solomon Islands, will allow the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to dispatch forces to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands.” While Chinese and Solomon leaders have denied that the agreement could open the door towards eventual militarization in the region, leaked documents on April 7 allege that Beijing had been scouting the region for military projects for years. (L-R) Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Oct. 9, 2019. (Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images) A leaked letter of intent contained details of a proposal from the head of Avic International Project Engineering Co., a Beijing-based state-owned aviation company, to Premier Leslie Kikolo of Isabel Province in the Solomon Islands on Sept. 29, 2020. The letter, seen by news.com.au, was signed by company President Rong Qian and opens with the following paragraph: “We, AVIC-INTL Project Engineering Company … present this letter to demonstrate our intent to study the opportunity to develop naval and infrastructure projects on leased land for the People’s Liberation Army Navy in Isabel Province with exclusive rights for 75 years.” A fully realized project could see the People’s Liberation Army extend its reach beyond the South China Sea, into the South Pacific region, where bitter fighting occurred between Japanese and U.S. troops in the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II because of the influence it wields over vital sea lanes. Map of Australia’s immediate neighbors in the western Pacific Ocean. (College of Asia and the Pacific/ANU/CartoGIS Services [CC BY-SA 4.0])The partnership with the Solomon Islands comes after CCP plans to upgrade an airstrip and bridge on the Pacific nation of Kiribati came to light—Kiribati is 3,000 kilometres southwest of Hawaii. The upgrade would make it possible to land larger military aircraft. The security agreement crystallizes long-running concerns over Beijing’s deepening influence in the South Pacific, while the Australian government has tried to fend off the CCP’s advances, notably by backing a US$1.6 billion takeover of dominant telco Digicel Pacific, which provides mobile and network services across Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tonga, and Fiji. One expert says outspending Beijing would be difficult. Cleo Paskal, an associate fellow of the Asia-Pacific Programme at the London-based Chatham House, called on the Australian government to reinvigorate the democratic process in the Solomon Islands and pressure Prime Minister Sogavare to abide by the 2000 Townsville Peace Agreement. “Put out the steps that the various provinces, including Malaita [Province], agreed to. There’s a whole series of things that have already been negotiated—everybody signed on, including the government under Sogavare,” she previously told The Epoch Times. The Agreement ended violence between the provinces and laid the foundation for aid programs and democratic government in the country. “Sogavare and his members of Parliament are given a choice, ‘You can deal with China, or you can deal with the rest of the world,’” she added, noting that Sogavare and his Cabinet could lose privileges afforded to them in their relationship with Australia. Paskal said that the pressu

Top US Diplomat Dispatched to Solomon Islands Over Chinese Security Pact: Report

The U.S. government has reportedly dispatched top official Kurt Campbell to the Solomon Islands as concerns mount over a security agreement that will open the door for Beijing to station troops and weaponry in the region.

Campbell, the U.S. National Security Council coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, is set to travel to the Pacific nation in April, accompanied by Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, according to the Financial Times.

Diplomatic efforts have ramped up after details of the agreement were leaked on social media—alerting neighbouring countries of the potential militarization of the region akin to the South China Sea.

China Development Forum in Beijing
The former Asia Group Chairman and CEO Kurt Campbell attends the China Development Forum in Beijing, China, on March 23, 2019. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Campbell’s visit follows that of two Australian heads of intelligence to Solomons’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on April 6—Andrew Shearer, director-general of the Office of National Intelligence, and Paul Symon, director-general of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton also revealed that the high commissioner, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the (federal) police commissioner, had all been engaging with Solomon Islands authorities “both in private” and publicly, according to comments to reporters.

The contentious agreement, which has been “initialled” by the foreign representatives for Beijing and the Solomon Islands, will allow the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to dispatch forces to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands.”

While Chinese and Solomon leaders have denied that the agreement could open the door towards eventual militarization in the region, leaked documents on April 7 allege that Beijing had been scouting the region for military projects for years.

Epoch Times Photo
(L-R) Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Oct. 9, 2019. (Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images)

A leaked letter of intent contained details of a proposal from the head of Avic International Project Engineering Co., a Beijing-based state-owned aviation company, to Premier Leslie Kikolo of Isabel Province in the Solomon Islands on Sept. 29, 2020.

The letter, seen by news.com.au, was signed by company President Rong Qian and opens with the following paragraph:

“We, AVIC-INTL Project Engineering Company … present this letter to demonstrate our intent to study the opportunity to develop naval and infrastructure projects on leased land for the People’s Liberation Army Navy in Isabel Province with exclusive rights for 75 years.”

A fully realized project could see the People’s Liberation Army extend its reach beyond the South China Sea, into the South Pacific region, where bitter fighting occurred between Japanese and U.S. troops in the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II because of the influence it wields over vital sea lanes.

Epoch Times Photo
Map of Australia’s immediate neighbors in the western Pacific Ocean. (College of Asia and the Pacific/ANU/CartoGIS Services [CC BY-SA 4.0])

The partnership with the Solomon Islands comes after CCP plans to upgrade an airstrip and bridge on the Pacific nation of Kiribati came to light—Kiribati is 3,000 kilometres southwest of Hawaii. The upgrade would make it possible to land larger military aircraft.

The security agreement crystallizes long-running concerns over Beijing’s deepening influence in the South Pacific, while the Australian government has tried to fend off the CCP’s advances, notably by backing a US$1.6 billion takeover of dominant telco Digicel Pacific, which provides mobile and network services across Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tonga, and Fiji.

One expert says outspending Beijing would be difficult.

Cleo Paskal, an associate fellow of the Asia-Pacific Programme at the London-based Chatham House, called on the Australian government to reinvigorate the democratic process in the Solomon Islands and pressure Prime Minister Sogavare to abide by the 2000 Townsville Peace Agreement.

“Put out the steps that the various provinces, including Malaita [Province], agreed to. There’s a whole series of things that have already been negotiated—everybody signed on, including the government under Sogavare,” she previously told The Epoch Times. The Agreement ended violence between the provinces and laid the foundation for aid programs and democratic government in the country.

“Sogavare and his members of Parliament are given a choice, ‘You can deal with China, or you can deal with the rest of the world,’” she added, noting that Sogavare and his Cabinet could lose privileges afforded to them in their relationship with Australia.

Paskal said that the pressure could compel Sogavare’s ministers to intervene and stop things from “going too far.”


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Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected]