By Stephen Wright
The Solomon Islands only agreed to sign an accord between the United States and more than a dozen Pacific island nations after indirect references to China were removed, Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele said Tuesday.
The pact between Washington and 14 Pacific island nations was a key outcome of the U.S.-Pacific summit last week aimed at countering China’s influence in the region.
The Solomon Islands earlier this year signed a security pact with Beijing, causing concern for Washington and its allies.
“In the initial draft, there were some references that we were not comfortable with,” said Manele, who is on an official visit to New Zealand.
“There [were] some references that put us in a position that we’ll have to choose sides. And we don’t want to be placed in a position that we have to choose sides.”
The Solomon Islands government has tilted toward China under Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. The Solomon Islands switched its diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 2019 and will host the Pacific Games next year with China’s financial help.
Another Pacific nation, Kiribati, also recognized China in 2019, leaving Taiwan with just four regional allies.
The United States has not had an embassy in the Solomon Islands since the early 1990s, but has promised to reopen it as part of efforts to show a greater commitment to the Pacific.
Manele said his government’s initial reservations about the U.S.-Pacific pact reflected its views on foreign policy in the region.
The Pacific, he said, “should be a region of peace, cooperation, and collaboration.”
During the negotiations, “we were able to find common ground that took us on board, so we signed,” he added.
President Joe Biden’s summit with Pacific leaders last week was meant to show a deeper U.S. commitment to a region that has turned to China to meet its development needs.
Over two decades, China has become an important source of infrastructure, loans, and aid for Pacific island nations as it seeks to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and gain regional allies in international organizations such as the United Nations.
The 11-point U.S.-Pacific declaration condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
It said the signatory countries are committed to maintaining peace and security in the Pacific and that they recognize the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight under international law.