China said Tuesday that it has signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean, fanning fears among the United States and its ally Australia that Beijing's military influence may grow in the region.
The agreement, formally signed by the foreign ministers of the two countries, will reportedly allow the deployment of Chinese police, military and other armed personnel, as well as the docking of the Asian nation's ships in the islands.
China has agreed with the Solomon Islands to "cooperate in maintaining social order, protecting people's lives and property, humanitarian assistance and responding to natural disasters," Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing.
The move is designed to "promote social stability and long-term stability in the Solomon Islands," Wang said, adding it "does not target any third party."
The Solomon Islands switched diplomatic relations from self-ruled Taiwan to mainland China in 2019. The island country has denied that the security agreement invites China to establish a military base there.
Australia stepped up efforts to prevent the Solomon Islands from officially signing the agreement, recently sending its Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja to the nation to express opposition to the security pact.
Diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Canberra have escalated, particularly after Australia called in 2020 for an independent review into the origins of the novel coronavirus, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
The White House, meanwhile, said Monday that senior officials, including Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell, will visit the Solomon Islands this week.
The administration of President Joe Biden, which is seeking to push back against China's growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific, announced in February a plan to open a U.S. embassy in the Solomon Islands to deepen cooperation with Pacific Island partners.
Communist-led China and democratic Taiwan have been governed separately since they split in 1949 due to a civil war. China has regarded Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.