The United States said Friday it has warned the Solomon Islands against any possible moves toward inviting a Chinese military presence following the recent signing of a security agreement between the Pacific nation and the Asian economic powerhouse.
"If steps are taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power-projection capabilities, or a military installation, the delegation noted that the United States would then have significant concerns and respond accordingly," the White House said following a trip by senior U.S. officials to the island country.
The Solomon Islands have been gaining attention from the U.S. administration of President Joe Biden amid concerns over China's expanding influence in the southwest Pacific Ocean, and most recently over what Washington has described as a "shadowy" deal between the island country and China.
Visiting the Solomon Islands was the final leg of the U.S. delegation's trip across the Pacific this week, which was led by White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink and others.
According to the White House, the United States and the Solomon Islands engaged in "substantial discussion" around the island country's security agreement with China.
Beijing on Tuesday announced the signing of the pact, which reportedly allows the deployment of Chinese police, military and other armed personnel, as well as the docking of the Asian nation's ships in the islands.
During the talks, the U.S. delegation noted there are "potential regional security implications of the accord, including for the United States and its allies and partners" and outlined "clear areas of concern with respect to the purpose, scope, and transparency of the agreement," the White House said in a press release.
In response to the concerns, the Solomon Islands' Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare reiterated his assurances that "there would be no military base, no long-term presence, and no power projection capability, as he has said publicly," according to the White House.
The United States emphasized that it will follow developments closely in consultation with regional partners. It also said it will "expedite" the opening of an embassy in the Solomon Islands, while vowing to deepen bilateral ties such as by launching a program on maritime security issues and advancing initiatives on climate, health and people-to-people ties.
The Solomon Islands switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019.
Concerns are increasing over China's growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region, with Beijing militarizing outposts in disputed areas of the South China Sea and carrying out repeated incursions into waters around the Senkaku Islands, a group of East China Sea islets controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.