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The Solomon Islands is planning to expand its security partnership with China, amid reports of a potential agreement between the two countries that has raised concerns in neighboring Australia and the United States, CNN reported.

The Pacific nation said over the weekend that it was working on “diversifying” the country’s security partnerships. The government added that it was in the process of implementing a variety of arrangements with Beijing in the areas of civil aviation, trade and education, while signing an agreement to strengthen bilateral law enforcement cooperation.

Officials noted that the Solomon Islands will continue to uphold its existing security agreement with Australia, which allows Australian security forces and civilian personnel to deploy rapidly to the islands in the event of a security threat.

But the Australian government expressed concerns about the Pacific island’s move toward China, fearing that such a security arrangement could possibly cover Chinese military assistance. This could eventually lead to the permanent military presence of Chinese troops on the Solomon Islands, which is one of Australia’s closest neighbors.

Chinese officials dismissed the worries, saying that it was “irresponsible for some Australian politicians to talk about China’s coercion and create tension.”

The new arrangements mark another sign of deeper relations between China and the Solomon Islands, which led the island nation to recognize Beijing instead of Taiwan in 2019.

The closer friendship also comes as the US and Australia have become wary of China’s increasing influence and assertiveness in the Pacific. Analysts noted that the signing of the security deal could complicate Australia’s security position, such as making it difficult for Canberra to move submarines, ships and aircraft along the Australian east coast.

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