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Australia Alarmed at China’s Security Talks With Solomon Islands

FILE - National flags of the Solomon Islands and China flutter at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, Oct. 7, 2019.
FILE - National flags of the Solomon Islands and China flutter at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, Oct. 7, 2019.

The Solomon Islands has confirmed it is negotiating a security deal with China, which has caused alarm in neighboring Australia and New Zealand.

The Solomon Islands is located in the southwestern Pacific, about 2,000 miles northeast of Australia.

A draft official document emerged on social media Thursday. It details plans that could allow Beijing to send armed police and soldiers to the Pacific archipelago to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in Solomon Islands.”

In Australia, there are fears that the agreement could lead to Beijing establishing a permanent military presence or bases in the Pacific Island country.

Australia and New Zealand have been the Solomon Islands’ traditional defense partners and aid donors.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said she respected the Pacific island's right to make sovereign decisions but was concerned “by any actions that undermine the stability and security of our region.”

New Zealand said the plan threatened to “destabilize” regional security.

Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime minister and president of the Asia Society, an international nonprofit organization, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the possibility of a Chinese base in the Solomon Islands was worrying.

“In the history of Australia’s engagement with the Pacific Island states I think this is one of the most significant security developments that we have seen in decades. It is one which is adverse to Australia’s national security interests. When you have got a country as close to Australia’s own territorial shores as the Solomon Islands, this is a big change in Australia’s immediate strategic environment,” Rudd said.

The Solomon Islands government said it was "expanding" its security agreements with more countries and “diversifying … [its] … security partnership including with China.”

In 2019, authorities in Honiara, the Solomon Islands’ capital, set up formal diplomatic ties with Beijing after severing official links with Taiwan.

Australia has become increasingly wary of China's growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region and has increased its aid spending in recent years.

In February, the United States said it planned to reopen its embassy in the Solomon Islands because of concerns about China's plans in the region.