Why Are Solomon Islands Newest Battleground in US-China Geopolitics?

Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is heading to Brussels on Tuesday to consult with European allies on China and a strategy to ramp up diplomatic outreach to ensure a free and open Asia-Pacific region.

Sherman is leading the delegation on U.S.-EU Dialogue on China on Thursday, and the U.S.-EU consultations on the Indo-Pacific on Friday.

Meanwhile, senior U.S. officials are heading to the Solomon Islands as a security agreement between the island country and China renews concerns over Beijing’s increasing influence in the Pacific.

This week, White House Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell, and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink will lead officials from the Defense Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to deepen “enduring ties with the region” and ensure the U.S. partnerships “deliver prosperity, security, and peace across the Pacific Islands and the Indo-Pacific.”

The implications of a security agreement between the Solomon Islands and China are expected to be high on the agenda. According to a leaked draft of the agreement, China could send armed police and military forces if requested by the Solomon Islands government. China could also be allowed to base its navy ships off the coast of the Pacific Island nation.

“We understand the Solomon Islands and the PRC [People’s Republic of China] are discussing a broad security-related agreement building on recently signed police cooperation,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during a briefing Monday. “Despite the Solomon Islands government’s comments, the broad nature of the security agreement leaves open the door for the deployments of PRC military forces to the Solomon Islands. We believe that signing such an agreement could increase destabilization within the Solomon Islands and will set concerning precedent for the wider Pacific Island region.”

Australia and New Zealand have had long-standing law enforcement and security ties with the Solomon Islands. An Australia-led multinational peacekeeping force from Fiji, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea was sent to Honiara, the island nation’s capital, following the outbreak of riots last November.

A goal of the visit will be to share perspectives and concerns about how the security agreement between the Solomons and China may threaten current regional security paradigms, Price added.

Former U.S. officials said the U.S. must increase its support to the Asia-Pacific region to fend off China’s growing influence.

In an interview with VOA Mandarin, Catherine Ebert-Gray, the former U.S. ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, highlighted the strategic location of the Solomon Islands.

“Solomon Islands is a transit point for a lot of cargo that moves throughout the south part of the Pacific,” she said. “It is also important to the navigation not only of those sea vessels, but of aircraft, many of which from Australia and New Zealand need to go through that territory to go north to Asia, or from the United States, to go to parts of the Pacific and parts of Asia.”

“More than half of the tuna fish of the world come from that region of the world. So the freedom of navigation of fishing vessels is critical,” she added.

The U.S. is also ramping up people-to-people ties with the Solomon Islands as the Peace Corps resumes operations in the South Pacific nation after nearly a 20-year pause.

VOA Mandarin contributed to this report.

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