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.
- In emails, US officials said the signing of the deal was ‘disturbing’ and ‘very unfortunate’
- The West has expressed concern that the deal could open the door to a possible military presence in the region
- Honiara has previously sought to reassure Australia and its allies that is not the case
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.
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.
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.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare last week sought to reassure Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong that would not be the case.
“And I welcomed his assurance that Australia remains Solomon Islands’ first security and development partner of choice.”
The Solomon Islands and the wider Pacific have hosted several foreign delegations since news of the security pact broke.
Senator Wong’s visit last week – his third trip to Pacific countries since being sworn in last month – came shortly after the Solomon Islands received a large Chinese delegation led by Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Mr. Wang’s trip to the region in late May saw him visit eight Pacific countries over 10 days, signing the island states to a series of bilateral agreements.
The ABC has contacted the Solomon Islands government for comment.