In high-level US visit to Solomon Islands, China features prominently
Honiara (AFP) – A high-ranking US delegation lands in the Solomon Islands on Saturday, as Washington battles with Beijing for influence in the region months after the Pacific nation signed a secret security pact with China.
China’s growing might in the Asia-Pacific region will be on full display this weekend as it continues to stage military exercises surrounding Taiwan in a show of force after the US House Speaker’s visit. United, Nancy Pelosi, on the self-governing island.
Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman leads the US delegation visiting the Solomons for three days to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II.
Sherman’s father was a Marine seriously wounded in the battle, a major six-month offensive in 1942 and 1943 that triggered a Japanese withdrawal and marked the start of major Allied operations in the Pacific.
The United States this year announced plans to reestablish an embassy in the Solomons nearly 30 years after its last mission closed.
China, which has an embassy in the Solomons with close ties to its government, alarmed Western rivals by signing an undisclosed security pact with the island in April.
The deal, which critics say could lead to China gaining a military foothold in the South Pacific, is likely high on the agenda for the US visit.
‘Double Edged Sword’
“It’s a difficult path for the United States to take in the sense that obviously Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare really values his country’s relationship with China,” said Mihai Sora, a researcher with the islands program. of the Pacific at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute. AFP.
“The idea that he should choose between the United States and China would not be welcomed. He will look for a way to work with both the United States and China.”
But not everyone in the Solomons supports developing security ties with China, he added: “It’s a double-edged sword.”
The Solomons severed ties with Taiwan in September 2019 in favor of diplomatic relations with China, a move that has unlocked investment but stoked inter-island rivalries.
Last November, protests against Sogavare’s rule turned into riots in the capital Honiara, in which much of the city’s Chinatown was set on fire before Australia led an international peacekeeping mission. peace to help restore calm.
On the home front, the prime minister of the Solomons is accused by the opposition of undermining democracy.
Sogavare reiterated his government’s intention to postpone general elections next April until after the Pacific Games, which the Solomons will host in November 2023.
China is funding a $53 million national stadium complex to host the Games.
“War on Media Freedom”
The Solomon Islands leader has also drawn attention for attacking the public broadcaster, Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation.
This week, Sogavare’s office accused the broadcaster of spreading “lies and misinformation”, saying it had neglected its duty to “practice fair, responsible and ethical journalism”.
The Prime Minister’s Office said standards in local media had “deteriorated over the years to such an extent that virtually everything is published just to make money”.
In response, the International Federation of Journalists warned of “an attack on freedom of the press and an unacceptable development for… the democratic political process”.
The federation had already expressed its concerns during the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the Solomon Islands in May.
The tour featured very restricted press conferences, with local reporters collectively confined to a single question for Wang.
© 2022 AFP