United States officials described the signing of a security pact between China and Solomon Islands as “very troubling” in internal emails, a freedom of information (FOI) request has revealed.
- In emails, US officials said the deal’s signing was “troubling” and “very unfortunate”
- The West has voiced concerns the deal could open the door for a potential military presence in the region
- Honiara has previously sought to reassure Australia and its allies this is not the case
Emails obtained by international news outlet Al Jazeera show how officials at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) responded to news the deal had been signed in mid-April.
“Yikes. This is very troubling,” Ryan Washburn, USAID’s mission director to the Philippines, Pacific Islands and Mongolia, wrote in an email.
“This is very unfortunate,” said Erin Nicholson, acting deputy assistant administrator for the USAID Bureau for Asia.
In response to the ABC’s coverage of the signed pact, the deputy mission director for the Pacific Islands and Mongolia, Sean Callahan, said it was “deja vu all over again”, in reference to when Solomon Islands switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 2019, ahead of a United Nations General Assembly.
“The press and academia in Canberra and Wellington are making those same comparisons from 2019 too referring that again we got ‘played’ by the PM,” he wrote.
In the emails, officials questioned the timing of the deal and discussed the best way to respond to the news, which came just days out from a planned trip to Honiara by US officials, including the Indo-Pacific coordinator of the National Security Council, Kurt Campbell.
The US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan had raised concerns about the controversial security pact between Beijing and Honiara, after a draft copy of the deal was leaked earlier this year.
The West expressed concern the pact could lay the groundwork for a Chinese military base or presence in the region.
Last week, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare sought to reassure Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong this would not be the case.
“And I welcomed his assurance that Australia remains Solomon Islands’ first security partner of choice and development partner of choice.”
Solomon Islands and the wider Pacific have played host to several foreign delegations since news of the security pact came to light.
Senator Wong’s visit last week — her third trip to Pacific nations since being sworn in last month — came soon after 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 nations over 10 days, signing up the island states to a range of bilateral deals.
The ABC has reached out to Solomon Islands’ government for comment.