China says 'no intention' to build Solomons military base as US expresses concern

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also took a swipe at previous Australian governments describing the Pacific islands as being in the country's 'backyard'.

Published: 26th May 2022 04:37 PM  |   Last Updated: 26th May 2022 04:37 PM   |  A+A-

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi talks during a ceremony to mark the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Solomon Islands and China. (Photo | AP)


HONIARA: China has "no intention at all" to build a military base in the Solomon Islands, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Thursday, dismissing speculation about the purpose of its recent security pact with the island state.

The Chinese minister, who was in Honiara at the start of an extensive tour of Pacific island states, said the security agreement Beijing sealed last month with the Solomon Islands government was "above board, with honesty and integrity".

A leaked draft of the security agreement -- the final version has not been made public -- contained a provision that would allow Chinese naval deployments to the island nation, which lies less than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) from Australia.

"It is not imposed on anyone, nor is it targeted at any third party. There is no intention at all to establish a military base," Wang told a news conference after meeting with the Solomon Islands' foreign minister, Jeremiah Manele.

Australia's former government, toppled in May 21 elections, had said that any move to create a Chinese military base would amount to crossing a "red line", without specifying the consequences.

But Wang countered: "China's cooperation with Pacific Island countries does not target any country and should not be interfered or disrupted by any other country."

He also took a swipe at previous Australian governments describing the Pacific islands as being in the country's "backyard".

"They are not the backyard of anyone. All the Pacific Island countries are entitled to make their own choice instead of being just mere followers of others," the foreign minister said through a translator.

- 'Smears and attacks' -

"Any smears and attacks on the normal security cooperation between China and Solomon Islands are not above the board and any such disruption will not get anywhere."

Wang appeared to extend an olive branch to other Pacific powers, though, saying China respected existing international relationships with Pacific island countries and would explore joining three-way partnerships with them.

The security pact helps the Solomon Islands government to safeguard stability and long term security, he said, "in light of the needs and requests by the Solomon Islands to carry out law enforcement and security cooperation".

It also entails "capacity building" for the police force, the Chinese minister said.

Last November, protests against Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare's rule flared into riots in the capital Honiara, during which much of the city's Chinatown was torched.

The unrest "gravely threatened the life and property of the Chinese community in this country," Wang said.

China sent anti-riot equipment and an "ad-hoc police advisory group" at the request of Honiara, he said, as well as sealing the security agreement.

It aimed to build Solomon Islands' law enforcement capacity and safeguard its security, he said and "at the same time, more effectively protect the Chinese nationals and institutions".

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will call for China to abide by international rules as he delivers a major speech Thursday on America's relationship with its rival.

Days after President Joe Biden visited Japan and South Korea to shore up key alliances, Blinken will give a long-awaited speech billed as the most comprehensive statement by the administration yet on China.

In a contrast with the abrasive approach of Biden's predecessor Donald Trump, Blinken will steer clear of talk of a sweeping global conflict and will not ask nations to shun China, officials said.

"This is not about a new Cold War. This is not about dividing the world into rigid ideological blocs," a senior official said as he previewed the speech.

"It is not about containing or keeping down any power. It is about upholding and, just as importantly, revitalizing the international order in a way that protects core principles that have enabled peace and prosperity for decades -- and, indeed, enabled China's remarkable rise."

The White House had long mulled whether Biden should deliver the speech but finally decided it would be given by Blinken, part of the administration's attempt to compete with China but also lower the temperature.

Blinken had been set to deliver the speech, to take place at George Washington University with the Asia Society as host, in early May but postponed it after being diagnosed with Covid-19.

- Shifting focus from Russia -

Blinken's speech, Biden's trip and a first-of-a-kind summit in Washington in early May with Southeast Asian leaders have aimed to show that the United States is still focused on Asia -- identified from the start of the administration as a priority -- despite months of effort to confront Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

The United States believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin presents an "acute, immediate threat" to the international order and that countering him reinforces the message on upholding rules, the official said on customary condition of anonymity.

"China is the one country that has the intention, as well as the economic, technological, military and diplomatic means, to advance a different vision of international order," the official said.

The Biden administration has repeatedly spoken of pressing China to abide by established rules, including in its conflicts in the dispute-ridden South China Sea and on trade, in which the United States accuses Beijing of widespread theft.

Biden has been seeking to unite allies in the face of China's rise, unveiling in Tokyo the Asia Pacific Economic Framework billed as coordinating trade policies around the region.

The Biden administration has similarly launched a forum with the European Union to develop technological standards, hoping to prevent China from dominating the 21st century through its rapid gains in artificial intelligence.

Blinken will also voice support for working with China in limited areas where cooperation is seen as feasible, such as on climate change, after diplomacy between the world's two largest emitters ahead of last year's Glasgow summit.

But officials said Blinken would not shy away from human rights and would reiterate the US view that Beijing is carrying out genocide against the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority through the mass incarceration of more than one million people.

The speech comes days after Biden made waves at a Tokyo news conference by saying the United States would militarily defend Taiwan, the self-governing democracy claimed by Beijing.

Officials said Blinken would repeat Biden's later insistence that he was not deviating from longstanding US policy on Taiwan.

The United States switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. It provides Taiwan weapons for self-defense, all while staying deliberately ambiguous on whether it would intervene militarily in an invasion.


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