China’s Newest Alliance is a Major Threat to Australia
The Chinese government last week quietly signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands that could allow Beijing to send warships and law enforcement officials to the region.
The Solomon Islands – a sovereign nation comprised of 6 major islands and over 900 smaller islands – is located roughly 2,000 miles northeast of Australia.
Under Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s leadership, the Solomon Islands in 2019 decided to extend diplomatic recognition to China and break ties with Taiwan (a self-governing island China plans to annex). The decision was met with considerable opposition, especially from residents of Malaita (the country’s most populous island). Malatian Premier Daniel Suidani has done his best to maintain a diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, which provided the island with equipment during the pandemic.
China claims that its new agreement with the Solomon Islands is designed to assist the nation in maintaining social order and national security amid a period of historic unrest and to provide humanitarian assistance after natural disasters; however, given China’s aggressive attempts to expand its influence in recent years, this is unlikely to be true.
The security pact “could increase destabilization within the Solomon Islands and will set a concerning precedent for the wider Pacific Island region,” warns US State Department spokesman Ned Price. “Despite the Solomon Islands government’s concerns, the broad nature of the security agreement leaves open the door for the deployment of PRC military forces to the Solomon Islands.”
From Australia’s point of view, the alliance between China and the Solomon Islands is not unlike Russia’s partnership with Cuba during the Cold War.
Australian Senator Zed Seselja met with Sogavare earlier this month, before the document was signed, in an attempt to talk him out of it. “We have asked Solomon Islands respectfully to consider not signing the agreement and to consult the Pacific family in the spirit of regional openness and transparency, consistent with our region’s security frameworks,” said Seselja.
Sogavare, who appealed to Australia for help during a days-long riot in November that saw multiple casualties and buildings burned, decided to sign it anyway.
Sogavare claims he will not allow China to construct a military base in his country, but what can a nation of 700,000 due in the face of the Chinese Communist Party?
The United States has already dispatched a team of officials to the Solomon Islands over concerns the deal will lead to the development of a Chinese military base within firing range of Australia. The team, led by National Security Council Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell and assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs Daniel Kritenbrink, will also visit Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
In February, US officials spoke with Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele about reopening an embassy in the capital city of Honiara that has been closed since 1993. The conversation, which took place before officials knew of the security pact, was held in response to Chinese aggression.
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