The US won’t rule out military action if China builds a military base in the Solomon Islands

The US won’t rule out military action if China builds a military base in the Solomon Islands

A senior US government official has refused to rule out military action against the Solomon Islands if it were to allow China to establish a military base in the South Pacific country.

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Daniel Kritenbrink, who was part of a high-level US delegation that visited Honiara last week, said the security deal between China and Solomon Islands presented “potential regional security implications” for the US and other allies.

Tensions have been running high between the island country and the West after Beijing last week announced that it had signed an undisclosed security pact with Honiara.

US government and Australia as its Pacific state’s traditional ally have expressed concern over the deal that would see Beijing and Honiara working together on maintaining social order, protecting people’s safety, aid, combating natural disasters, and helping safeguard national security.

What has caused jitters in the West, in particular, is speculation that China intends to establish a military base in the South Pacific country, approximately 2000 kilometers to the northeast of Australia.

Kritenbrink told the Guardian that the US delegation, which also included the National Security Council coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs, Kurt Campbell, had a “constructive and candid” meeting with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in which they communicated their concerns about the security pact.

“We wanted to outline for our friends in the Solomons, what our concerns are,” said Kritenbrink. “Prime Minister Sogavare indicated that in the Solomon Islands’ view, the agreement they’ve concluded has solely domestic implications. But we’ve made clear that there are potential regional security implications of the agreement not just for ourselves, but for allies and partners across the region.”

In a veiled warning, Kritenbrink reiterated Washington’s readiness to act in the region if China builds a military base in the Solomon Islands.

“Of course, we have respect for the Solomon Islands sovereignty, but we also wanted to let them know that if steps were taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power projection capabilities, or a military installation, then we would have significant concerns, and we would very naturally respond to those concerns,” he said.

He, however, refused to specifically elaborate on West’s response, saying he was “not in a position” to say what the US and its allies “may or may not do in such a situation.”

Pressed on whether he would rule out the prospect of the US military action against the Solomon Islands, and whether he was comfortable with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s remarks that the military is a “red line” for Australia, he said: “I don’t have a lot to add beyond what I’ve already started.”

The Biden administration had last week said the US would “respond accordingly” if China was allowed to establish a base on the islands.

Tensions have heightened between the two sides after Morrison said Australia had “the same red line” as the US when it came to China’s involvement in the Solomon Islands, and his Defense Minister Peter Dutton declared that Australia “should prepare for war”, accusing China of being “on a very deliberate course at the moment”.

Beijing has maintained that it does not seek to establish a military base in the island country, calling it “fake news” and saying these are attempts aimed at undermining relationships between countries.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin denounced Washington for hypocrisy, saying the US has built nearly 800 military bases in more than 80 countries and regions around the world, a policy that has already caused major concerns around the world.

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The Solomon Islands government also earlier this month stated that the military base was not part of the agreement “contrary to the misinformation promoted by antigovernment commentators”.

Amid attempts to curb China’s ties with the Indo-Asia-Pacific countries and counter its rival, the US delegation’s trip also included visits to Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

Reuters cited Kritenbrink as saying that the delegation met PNG Prime Minister James Marape and its defense chiefs and plans to hold further security discussions in the coming months.

“There is a desire on both sides to ensure we take concrete steps to expand our security cooperation,” he was quoted as saying.

In 2018, Beijing offered to redevelop a naval base in Papua New Guinea, but the PNG’s government there struck a deal instead for Australia and the US to upgrade a former World War Two US naval base at Manus Island.

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