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US Indo-Pacific commander: China’s move for Solomon Islands woke officials

US relations with Pacific island countries have returned to normal after officials received a warning of China’s incursions into the Solomon Islands, US Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral John Aquilino said. at an event in Singapore.

China’s ties with small Pacific island nations have flourished for several decades as it seeks to diplomatically isolate Taiwan and establish its own diplomatic institutions and groupings to rival a Western-dominated post-World War II international order. Last year, Beijing forged a security pact with the Solomon Islands, alarming the United States and its allies.

“Recently we have seen in the form of the Solomon Islands some actions by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to potentially take a foothold. I think it woke up a number of us, to make sure we spend more time, engage, provide assistance and support to the Pacific islands,” Aquilino said Thursday after a speech before the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“We are back to normal, I would say, and we continue to engage in ways that are meaningful and useful to those nations,” BenarNews, an affiliate of Radio Free Asia, said in a report.

In his prepared remarks, the regional military chief denied that the United States is trying to contain China and characterized relations between the two countries as fierce competition. The United States and its allies want to ensure that the rules-based peaceful international order endures, Aquilino said.

Earlier this week, the leaders of the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom announced a deal for Canberra to buy nuclear powered attack submarines of the US from the beginning of the next decade and then build their own nuclear submarines using British and American technology.

He AUKUS security pact, first announced in September 2021, is widely understood to be aimed at deterring China from upsetting the military balance in East Asia and the Pacific. The Asian superpower has doubled its annual military spending over the past decade, though it still spends far less on its arsenal and military than the United States.

Aquilino said Australia and New Zealand were central to recent efforts to improve US relations with Pacific island countries.

“They have certainly taken on a greater leadership role. We coordinate our support,” Aquilino said.

American involvement in the Pacific declined after the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, with embassies and US development assistance cut back through its Peace Corps agency.

Leaders of the Pacific island nations say their main concern is the weather, and they don’t want to be forced to take sides on the Chinese-American rivalry or that their region becomes more and more militarized.

In the Solomon Islands, it is unclear whether the United States can repair ties with the government of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. He has welcomed Chinese aid for his country, which is struggling with lack of roads and basic health care.

Solomon Islands switched its diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 2019.

After an absence of three decades, the United States last month upgraded the status of its consular services agency in the Solomon Islands to an embassy. It does not have a resident ambassador and is working to establish a more substantial diplomatic presence.

pro-American politician daniel suidanian outspoken critic of the Solomon Islands’ closer ties with China, he was ousted as prime minister of Malaita, the Solomon Islands’ most populous province, in early February.

Meanwhile, China is funding the 2023 Pacific Games, which will take place in November in the Solomon Islands capital Honiara, and is also building a major new hospital for the country.

BenarNews is an online news outlet affiliated with Radio Free Asia.

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