Japan’s foreign minister met with the Solomon Islands leader on March 19 and brought up a controversial security pact that Beijing and the Pacific Island nation entered into last year, according to Japan’s government.
During his visit to Honiara, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare that Japan has been “closely watching” the impact of the security pact, which could allow Beijing to station armed forces in the strategically located Pacific nation.
They exchanged views on the global security environment, and Sogavare reiterated that “the peace and security of the region is most important” to his nation, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
Courtesy Call on Prime Minister SOGAVARE of Solomon Islands by Foreign Minister HAYASHI#Japan_Solomon
— MOFA of Japan (@MofaJapan_en) March 19, 2023
Hayashi also shared Japan’s views on how the Pacific Island nation can achieve long-term development while maintaining its “self-reliance,” the ministry said in a statement.
He said Japan will work to promote “a wide range of transparent and inclusive cooperation” with Pacific Island nations such as the Solomon Islands toward the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific. Both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation.
China Sending Delegation
Following Hayashi’s visit, Chinese Ambassador to the Solomon Islands Li Ming reportedly announced that a delegation of the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA)—which is Beijing’s foreign aid agency—will visit the Solomon Islands next week.
CIDCA and the Solomon Islands government will sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and exchange letters on sending local athletes to Beijing to prepare for the upcoming Pacific Games, Li Ming said without elaborating on the purpose of the MOU.
The delegation will also meet with Sogavare and hold talks with line ministries.
Sogavare told reporters that he looks forward to meeting the CIDCA delegation and discussing “our strategic interests,” according to local reports.
China–Solomon Islands Pact ‘Woke’ the United States
The Solomon Islands–China security deal, which was signed in April 2022, triggered alarms in the United States and among its allies that Beijing may use the accord to establish a military presence in the region.
According to a leaked draft of the agreement, Beijing would be able to dispatch police (which in China are military forces), troops, weapons, and naval ships—with the consent of the Solomon Islands—to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands.”
Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Kentaro Uesugi traveled to the Solomon Islands after the signing of the deal and relayed Japan’s reservations about the agreement. Hayashi said at the time that the accord could affect “the security of the entire Asia-Pacific region.”
U.S. Indo-Pacific commander Adm. John Aquilino said on March 16 that the security pact between Beijing and the Solomon Islands has made the United States realize the need to better engage with Pacific Island nations.
“We’ve recently seen in the form of the Solomon Islands some actions by the PRC to potentially grab a foothold,” he said at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore, Benar News reported.
PRC is the acronym for China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China.
“I think it woke a number of us up, to ensure we spend more time, engage with, provide assistance and support to Pacific islands,” Aquilino said. “We’re back on track, I would say, and we continue to engage in ways that are meaningful and helpful for those nations.”
He emphasized that the United States only wishes to ensure that the rules-based international order is preserved in the Indo-Pacific.
The Solomon Islands is a strategically important point in the Pacific. It’s a key blocking island chain that restricts maritime movement both in and out of the Australian region for Australia’s trade, as well as for potential Australian naval aid to Taiwan, U.S. aid to Australia, or incoming Chinese forces.
Daniel Y. Teng contributed to this report.