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China - Solomon Islands Security Pact- an emerging loggerheads for the world

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, left, and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare /courtesy Hindustan Times

China on Tuesday said it had signed a wide-ranging security pact with the Solomon Islands, an agreement Western governments fear could give Beijing a military foothold in the South Pacific.

A draft version of the agreement leaked last month sent shockwaves across the region over provisions allowing Chinese security and naval deployments to the crisis-hit island nation. As part of these provisions, armed Chinese police may be deployed and it offers Chinese naval vessels a safe harbour. The deal, it is understood, also provides Chinese personnel with legal and judicial immunity.

Where on the one hand the war between Russia and Ukraine has increased the possibilities of World War III, on the other hand this pact between China and Solomon Islands is a matter of concern.

The Solomons are an archipelago of hundreds of small islands in the southern part of the Pacific Ocean. It is located approximately 2,000 km NE of Australia.

The islands are a key World War II battlefront that it recognised China only in 2019 after switching from ties with Taiwan.

The pact is being seen as a major shift in local geopolitics since it gives China direct access to the South Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand.

Among the principal concerns are, of course, that China will build a military base in the Solomon Islands. There are also fears it could fall into Beijing's debt trap amid promises to funnel billions in mega infrastructure projects by Chinese firms.

Finally, the Solomon Islands also sits on critical shipping routes, meaning China could potentially control maritime traffic in and around the region.

The China-Solomon Islands pact also asks questions about the much-vaunted AUKUS - Australia, the United Kingdom and the US - partnership, since the Solomon Islands has moved towards China rather than Australia, and the West bloc, raising doubts over other Pacific island nations' future steps.

The White House said Campbell and the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Daniel Kritenbrink, would lead a US delegation to Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

The US believes that signing such an agreement could lead to “destabilisation within the Solomon Islands” and set a “concerning precedent”.

The purpose of upcoming visit will be to share perspectives, to share interests, to share concerns about how Solomon Islands’ move could affect the regional security paradigm.

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