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China plays a major role in the high-level US visit to the Solomon Islands

#China #plays #major #role #highlevel #visit #Solomon #Islands

A top US delegation lands in the Solomon Islands on Saturday as Washington tussles with Beijing for influence in the region months after signing a secret security pact with China.

China’s growing power in the Asia-Pacific region will be revealed this weekend as it continues to hold military exercises to encircle Taiwan following the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the self-governing island.

Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is leading the US delegation visiting the Solomon Islands for three days to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II.

Sherman’s father was a Marine who was badly injured in the Battle, a major offensive spanning six months in 1942 and 1943 that triggered a Japanese retreat and marked the beginning of major Allied operations in the Pacific.

The United States announced this year that it would reestablish an embassy in the Solomon Islands, nearly 30 years after it closed its last mission.

China, which has an embassy in the Solomon Islands with close ties to its government, alarmed Western rivals by signing a secret security pact with the island in April.

The deal, which critics fear could give China a military foothold in the South Pacific, is likely high on the US visit’s agenda.

– ‘Double-edged sword’ –

“It’s a difficult path for the US in the sense that Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare obviously really values ​​his country’s relationship with China,” Mihai Sora, a research fellow in the Pacific Islands Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, told AFP.

“The idea that he would have to choose between the US and China would not be welcome. He will look for a way to work with both the US and China.”

But not everyone in Solomon Islands supports growing security ties with China, adding: “It’s a double-edged sword.”

The Solomon Islands severed ties with Taiwan in September 2019 in favor of diplomatic ties with China, a move that freed up investment but fueled inter-island rivalries.

Last November, protests against Sogavare’s rule escalated into riots in the capital Honiara, which saw much of the city’s Chinatown torched, before Australia led an international peacekeeping mission to help restore calm.

On the home front, the Solomon Islands prime minister has been accused by the opposition of undermining democracy.

Sogavare has reiterated his government’s intention to postpone next April’s general election until after the Pacific Games, which the Solomon Islands will host in November 2023.

China is funding a national stadium complex reportedly worth $53 million to host the games.

– “War on Media Freedom” –

The Solomon Islands leader has also pulled flak for attacking public broadcaster Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation.

This week Sogavare’s office accused the channel of spreading “lies and misinformation” and said it had neglected its duty to “practice fair, responsible and ethical journalism”.

The prime minister’s office said local media standards had “deteriorated over the years to a point where pretty much anything is published just to make money”.

In response, the International Federation of Journalists warned of “an attack on press freedom and an unacceptable development for… the democratic political process”.

The association had already expressed concerns when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited the Solomon Islands in May.

The tour included heavily restricted press conferences where local journalists were collectively limited to one question for Wang.

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