US officials find China-Solomon Islands security deal ‘very troubling’, internal emails reveal

US officials have described the signing of a security pact between China and the Solomon Islands as “very disturbing” in internal emails, an Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed.

Emails obtained by international news outlet Al Jazeera show how US Agency for International Development (USAID) officials reacted to news that the deal was signed in mid-April.

“Yuck. This is very disturbing,” Ryan Washburn, USAID Mission Director for the Philippines, Pacific Islands, and Mongolia, wrote in an email.

“It’s very unfortunate,” said Erin Nicholson, acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Asia bureau.

An excerpt from a chain of USAID emails regarding the signing of a security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands.
News of the deal was described as “very unfortunate” by one official. (Provided: USAID)

In response to ABC’s coverage of the signed pact, Deputy Mission Director for the Pacific Islands and Mongolia, Sean Callahan, said it was “deja vu again”, in reference to when the Solomon Islands transferred diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 2019, ahead of a United Nations General Assembly.

“The press and academia in Canberra and Wellington are also making these same comparisons from 2019 also making reference to the fact that we have once again been ‘played’ by the Prime Minister,” he wrote.

An excerpt from a chain of USAID emails regarding the signing of a security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands.
An official said the news was “like deja vu”. (Provided: USAID)

In the emails, the officials questioned the timing of the deal and discussed how best to respond to the news, which came just days before a planned trip to Honiara by US officials, including National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell.

The United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan had raised concerns about the controversial security pact between Beijing and Honiara, after a draft copy of the deal leaked earlier this year .

The West has expressed concern that the pact could lay the groundwork for a Chinese military base or presence in the region.

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