Washington (Reuters) – White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell and the State Department’s top official for Asia will travel this week to the Solomon Islands, the White House said on Monday, amid concerns that the Pacific Island country is making a security pact with China.
Campbell and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink will lead a delegation that includes Department of Defense and U.S. Agency for International Development officials to three countries: the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, the White House National Security Council said in a statement.
“The delegation will meet with senior government officials to ensure our partnerships deliver prosperity, security, and peace across the Pacific Islands and the Indo-Pacific,” it said without giving dates for the trip.
The team will also stop in Hawaii to “consult with senior military officials and regional partners at United States Indo-Pacific Command,” it said.
In February, the United States announced it would open an embassy in the Solomon Islands, part of an effort by the Biden administration to commit more diplomatic and security resources to the Indo-Pacific to counter China’s drive for greater influence.
The Solomon Islands said in March that it was creating a partnership with China to tackle security threats and ensure a safe environment for investment in what would be a major inroad for Beijing in a region that U.S. allies Australia and New Zealand have for decades seen as their “backyard.”
But after a regional backlash, the Solomon Islands said it would not allow a Chinese military base there.
Australia’s Defence Minister Peter Dutton has said that China hopes to gain a military foothold in the Pacific Islands, including a “military port” in Papua New Guinea.
China offered to redevelop a naval base in Papua New Guinea in 2018 but Australia’s closest northern neighbor decided to have Australia to develop the base instead.