By Kirsty Needham, David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina
SYDNEY/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Solomon Islands has told Pacific nations invited to a White House meeting with President Joe Biden that they will not sign the summit declaration, according to a note seen by Reuters, raising concerns. about the islands’ ties with China. . .
Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum bloc have been invited to the two-day White House summit beginning Wednesday, in which the Biden administration seeks to compete with China for influence in the strategically important South Pacific.
The Solomon Islands, which signed a security pact with China in April, wrote to the Pacific Islands Forum asking it to tell other members that it would not sign a proposed Declaration on the United States-Pacific Partnership, which It will be discussed at the summit on Sept. 29, and he needed more time for his parliament to consider the matter, according to the note dated Sunday.
Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo said in Washington on Tuesday that the countries had been working on the summit declaration – “a vision statement” – that would cover five thematic areas, including human-centered development human rights, the fight against climate change, geopolitics and security of the Pacific Region, trade and industrial and commercial links.
The note from Solomon Islands said that the statement “did not yet enjoy consensus”.
“Solomons says he won’t be able to sign the statement, but he’s not asking others to do the same,” said Anna Powles, a Pacific security expert at New Zealand’s Massey University who saw the memo.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s office did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the White House National Security Council declined to comment.
Solomon Islands opposition party leader Matthew Wales wrote in a tweet: “Strange inconsistency. Deals with China are signed and kept secret. Now insisting Parliament must deal with regional deal with US? Insincerity to a great extent!”
Solomon Islands says in the note, signed by its embassy in Washington, that the Pacific Islands Forum already has a mechanism in place to engage with partners outside the region.
“Of course, China is part of that mechanism, so the United States is looking to create an alternative architecture, like its own regional partnership framework,” Powles said.
Speaking at an event in Washington hosted by Georgetown University, Panuelo said that Pacific island nations have realized the importance of “strength in numbers” and asked the superpowers to speak to them about the most important issues for the region.
Efforts to come up with a final text on the declaration ran into trouble this week during a call between the US State Department and ambassadors from the Pacific Islands, when the US side demanded the removal of the text agreed by the island countries that Washington addresses the Marshall Islands nuclear issue. ., three sources familiar with the call, including a diplomat from a Pacific island state, told Reuters.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham, David Brunnstrom, and Michael Martina. Editing by Gerry Doyle)
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