A White House envoy on Tuesday decried “disinformation and smears” about the United States’ motives in the Solomon Islands, after his meeting with the country’s pro-China leader was overshadowed by unsubstantiated rumors of dark plots and geopolitical intrigue.
Veteran U.S. diplomat Kurt Campbell visited the Solomons’ capital Honiara as part of Washington’s effort to counter growing Chinese political, economic and security influence in the South Pacific.
There, he met Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who has previously lashed out at Western nations and signed a secretive security deal with Beijing that has brought a steady trickle of Chinese police officers to the country.
Campbell told reporters that his visit was designed to promote a “positive agenda” that tackles Pacific priorities like climate change, protection of fish stocks and education exchanges.
But he also faced questions at the news conference about an unsubstantiated report of a supposedly U.S.-backed plot to kill Sogavare that has featured in at least one local newspaper.
Rumors of coup plots and assassination attempts bubble to the surface frequently in the Solomon Islands, but the acts themselves rarely materialise.
“The United States has been the subject of some disinformation and smears, we find that deplorable,” said Campbell, who is currently President Joe Biden’s Indo-Pacific coordinator.
“I can’t say it more clearly. We’re here with the best intentions determined to work in support of the people of the Solomons Islands,” he added.
Other areas covered in the meeting, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare acknowledged the opening of the U.S. embassy in Honiara as a sign of commitment by U.S. to strengthen its partnership and relations with Solomon Islands.
PM Sogavare further acknowledged other assistance rendered to Solomon Islands, however, highlighting the need to invest in transformative projects particularly in infrastructure and renewable energy to drive economic growth and prosperity.
The Prime Minister also raised the need for U.S. to take active stand to rebut or deny media publications that have implied U.S’s involvement in internal affairs of the country.
He also raised the issue of Unexploded Ordnance or UXO expressing the need for U.S. to assist in removing the UXOs both on land and in specified areas in the sea.
Other social issues discussed including availing more scholarships for Solomon Islanders, partnership between SINU and U.S. education institutions, easing visa requirements between the two countries, and the resumption of the Peace Corp programme.
Prime Minister Sogavare further acknowledged U. S.’s commitment to the Washington Summit which saw U.S appointing Ambassador Frankie Reed as Pacific Envoy. This demonstrates U.S.’s commitment to engage with the Pacific, one of the main outcomes of the Washington Summit.
PM Sogavare reaffirmed Solomon Islands stance to work closely with Ambassador Reed in ensuring that the commitments made in the Washington Summit are materialised.
Campbell has been to the country twice so far, his first visit was immediately after Solomon Islands and China signed the security agreement.
Political tensions in the country have intensified since 2021 anti-government riots that highlighted political, regional and ethnic divisions.