Solomon Islands rejects Biden’s Pacific outreach amid China challenge

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SYDNEY — US efforts to rally leaders of the Pacific islands at a White House summit this week took a hit when the Solomon Islands said they would not release a joint statement the Biden administration plans to unveil. would approve.

As President Biden prepared to host the leaders of a dozen Pacific countries in a unique meeting on Wednesday and Thursday, the Solomon Islands sent a diplomatic note to other countries in the region saying there was no consensus on the issues and that it “took time to think” about the statement.

The setback just hours before the summit is a sign of the challenges Washington faces as it tries to restore its influence in a region where China has penetrated. It came as Vice President Harris toured East Asia, where she emphasizes the US commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific” during stops in Japan and South Korea. In remarks in Japan on Wednesday, Harris condemned China’s “disturbing” actions in the region, including “provocations” against Taiwan.

In recent years, China has increased diplomatic ties with and financial aid to Pacific island nations, while also pushing for security deals that could increase its military presence in a region whose major shipping routes and natural resources make it strategically valuable.

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While the timing of the objection to the summit’s statement was somewhat of a surprise, the source was not.

The Solomon Islands have moved closer to China since the election of their combative prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, in 2019. The Solomon Islands swapped their diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing a few months later, making headlines again this year when it faced a controversial security measure. pact with China that the United States and its allies fear could lead to a Chinese base in the archipelago, about 1,000 miles off the coast of Australia. The Solomon Islands and China have denied plans for a base.

This month, Solomon Islands lawmakers voted to postpone national elections from 2023 to 2024, in what critics called a “power grab” and a sign of growing Chinese-style authoritarianism.

In a speech to the UN General Assembly in New York last week, Sogavare said his country had been “dishonestly targeted” and “defamatory” because of its relationship with China.

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In the diplomatic note, reviewed by The Washington Post and dated Sept. 25, the United States’ embassy of the Solomon Islands in New York said the statement needs “further discussion.” The Australian Broadcasting Corp. first reported that the Solomon Islands refused to sign the joint statement, which the ABC says has been weeks in the making.

According to a draft statement reviewed by the ABC, the statement will declare climate the “top priority” and “greatest existential threat” to the Pacific Ocean. But Pacific countries appeared to have removed a reference to the China-Solomon Islands security pact, scrapping language emphasizing the need to “closely consult on security decisions with regional implications,” the ABC reported. .

At the summit, the White House will unveil its first strategy for the Pacific Islands, which will focus on climate change — an issue for which the Pacific countries have demanded more decisive US action. Another component is increasing the efforts of the Coast Guard and other US agencies to fight illegal fishing and help Pacific countries manage parts of the ocean sustainably.

More details on the strategy and related initiatives would come during the summit, US officials said.

China Fails in Pacific Pact, Still Trying to Increase Regional Influence

“Our goal for the next few days is to meet the Pacific islanders where they live,” said a senior US government official who spoke on condition of anonymity about the discussions. “They’ve made it clear to us that they want us as partners for the biggest problems.”

There was a “huge amount of enthusiastic support” for the joint statement, the official said, acknowledging disagreements over the statement but not directly addressing the Solomon Islands’ refusal to sign it.

“The Solomons have been here,” he said. “They have been heavily involved in our efforts over the past few days and we expect them to be actively involved in our meetings in the coming days.”

The Solomon Islands’ objection to the White House summit statement will be seen by some as obstructive and influenced by China, said Anna Powles, an associate professor at the Center for Defense and Security Studies at Massey University in New Zealand.

But other Pacific states have also expressed concern about the United States’ haste convening the summit, she said, noting that the leaders of Vanuatu and Nauru are not present due to elections. Kiribati will not be represented, and a few other countries were invited late.

China signs security deal with Solomon Islands, alarming neighbors

“The United States is greatly welcomed to the region, but the pace at which the US has pursued its renewed engagement with the Pacific is arguably perceived as too rushed, too rushed,” Powles said.

By initially not inviting all members of the Pacific Islands Forum – a key regional body – the United States also threatened to emulate China, which fell short in May in its bid for a comprehensive regional security agreement, in part because some Pacific countries felt rushed to sign the agreement. sweeping agreement, she added.

“There are definitely parallels in terms of the lack of consultation, lack of consensus and bypassing the Pacific Islands Forum,” Powles said, pointing out that China’s failed regional security pact was very different from what is likely to emerge from the White House. come. meeting.

The Biden administration is expanding its diplomatic presence in the Pacific with new embassies in the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Kiribati. In July, Harris announced that the administration would ask Congress to triple funding for economic development and ocean resilience in the region to $60 million a year over the next decade.

Ellen Nakashima in Washington contributed to this report.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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