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Pacific leader urges Solomon Islands to rethink China security deal

The president of the Federated States of Micronesia has sent an impassioned plea to the Solomon Islands’ prime minister, urging him to reconsider a controversial and “unprecedented” security pact with China.

President David Panuelo voiced “grave security concerns about this proposed agreement” in a 30 March letter released by his government on Thursday, citing rising tensions between China and the United States.

“My fear is that we – the Pacific islands – would be at the epicentre of a future confrontation between these major powers,” Panuelo wrote.

A leaked draft of the wide-ranging security agreement sparked rebuke from the United States, Australia and New Zealand last week because it would allow Chinese security and naval deployments to the Solomon Islands.

The Solomon Islands’ prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, dismissed critics of the deal in a fiery speech on Tuesday, saying it was “very insulting... to be branded as unfit to manage our sovereign affairs” by other nations.

In his letter to Sogavare, Panuelo asked the Solomons leader to consider the long-term consequences “for the entire Pacific region, if not the entire world” of signing the security pact.

He voiced concern about the Pacific becoming “collateral damage” in a potential conflict between the United States and China, saying the region could be transformed into “the playground for children playing as adults”.

Panuelo lamented the regional schism as nations lined up behind China and the United States: “Wouldn’t it be terrific if they could see that the troubles of our times, such as climate change, require all of them working in concert instead of against each other?”

But he urged Sogavare to be pragmatic, given the rising tensions between the major powers and their allies.

Australia’s Chief of Joint Operations Lieutenant General Greg Bilton said on Thursday that the China-Solomon Islands pact – which is yet to be signed – would “change the calculus” of his country’s operations in the Pacific

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