China’s imposing presence in the South Pacific is a major problem for the Solomon Islands and the security agreement signed with Solomon Islands.
Solomon Islands Police Force has already become China’s public security force and will inevitably become China’s military base.
Article on April 7th 2022, by Kaori Fukushima
About Kaori Fukushima（After graduating from Osaka University with a degree in Literature, he joined the Sankei Shimbun. After studying abroad at Fudan University in Shanghai, he worked as a correspondent for Sankei Shimbun in Hong Kong in 2001 and in Beijing from 2002 to 2008. He has reported mainly on Chinese politics, economy, and society. His main publications include “Shinkei Corona, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Sekai wa Xi Jinping wo Kiki wo Murenai” (Wani Books, 2020), “Xi Jinping no Defeat: Red Empire, Chugoku no Kiki” (Wani Books, 2020), “Chugoku Zetsumo Factory no Younger” (PHP Research Institute, 2013), and “Chugoku no Onna: Undercover Reportage, Chugoku no Onna” (Bungei Shunju, 2011).）
The fact that China and the South Pacific island nation of Solomon Islands are planning to sign a broad-based security framework agreement became known to the world at the end of March when a draft of the agreement was leaked on the Internet.
Apparently, this came as a surprise to Australia, which has always referred to Melanesia as “its own backyard.
While the world’s attention was focused on Russia’s war in Ukraine, China was steadily building a military base in the South Pacific islands.
Contents of the Dangerous Draft
It was around March 24 that pictures of this draft began circulating on Twitter and other social networking sites.
The draft has seven articles, but the three most important points can be summarized as follows
(1) China will dispatch police, armed police, military and other law enforcement armed agencies to Solomon Islands at the request of the Solomon Islands government to carry out security missions in Solomon Islands, to protect people’s life safety and property, and to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. If required by the Chinese side, with the consent of the Solomon Islands side, vessels may visit the Solomon Islands, refuel in the Solomon Islands, and stop or transit in the Solomon Islands. The Solomon Islands side will provide all necessary facilities. Relevant Chinese units may also be used to protect the security of Chinese nationals and major projects in the Solomon Islands. (Art.)
(2) China may cooperate in other missions and at the same time demand confidentiality. The information may not be released to third parties without the written permission of the parties (China and Solomon Islands). If either party refuses, information on the content of the cooperation, including media briefings, may not be divulged. (Article 5)
(3) If any argument or dispute arises that interferes with this framework, the parties will resolve it through consultation.
One need only read this draft to feel that it is in jeopardy.
First, the Solomon Islands, a nation that is not yet politically mature, could be dyed in Chinese colors. Solomon Islands has no army. It has only about 800 police officers. Moreover, tribal values still tend to take precedence over democracy and the rule of law. As a result, corruption is a major problem in Solomon Islands politics, and countries such as China have the potential to enter the islands.
Among the citizens, there are intellectuals and organizations that hold Western-style peaceful demonstrations and protests to correct such politics.
On the other hand, there is also the danger that the anger of depressed young people without jobs in the midst of the great wealth disparity in society will hijack the peaceful demonstrations and cause “violent incidents. This disparity between rich and poor has been widened by China’s recent surge of investment projects.
What would happen if China cooperates in security in such a country and commits to maintaining security in the Solomon Islands?
Even the mature culture of civil demonstrations in Hong Kong can be suppressed as “rioters” and turned into terrorists and criminals by Chinese public security officials, and the democracy movement in the Solomon Islands will be eradicated in no time.
Solomon Islands Police Force to be converted to Chinese Public Security
Incidentally, apart from this draft, China and Solomon Islands have also signed a cooperation agreement on police services.
This is a cooperation agreement signed in December between Solomon Islands and China in response to the anti-establishment movement in Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands, which broke out last November (2021) and turned into a riot linked to popular social discontent, burning down Chinatown, and killing and injuring Chinese nationals.
During the riots in November, 200 peacekeepers from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea were dispatched to quell the situation, but China was unable to dispatch its own armed police or liberation forces at that time.
Based on this new police service cooperation agreement, China dispatched a team of Chinese public security police advisors to teach Chinese-style riot control techniques and provided them with weapons equipment. A training course opened on March 14 of this year.
It is not known whether this Chinese public security police advisory group had any influence, but on March 17, an operation was launched to hunt leaders of democratic activists living in a rural village on the outskirts of Auki, the capital of Malaita Province, and 20 Solomon police officers stormed the village before dawn. At this time, there were apparently indiscriminate attacks with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Rieko Hayakawa, an expert on security issues in the South Pacific island countries, and others are of the opinion that these barbaric methods are different from those of the Solomon Police so far. In other words, it seems that the Solomon Police are becoming more and more like Chinese public security forces.
Incidentally, this raid by the police failed due to the resistance of the villagers, but the next time the police conduct the same operation, they may do it more thoroughly and mercilessly.
Will it become a Chinese military base?
The Chineseization of the values and judicial order in the Solomon Islands is a serious problem, but the bigger problem is that if this agreement is concluded, the People’s Liberation Army could be stationed in the Solomon Islands, which could fundamentally change the security framework of the South Pacific.
The draft text alone does not indicate whether this “necessity” includes military-strategic needs. The Solomon Islands side is to provide whatever China needs in terms of both supply and logistics, which may mean, for example, that the Liberation Army will use the infrastructure that Australia has invested in and maintained in the Solomon Islands for security purposes over the years.
Incidentally, on March 29, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sogavare acknowledged the existence of such a draft security agreement with China and, at the same time, expressed his strong displeasure at the international community’s criticism of it, describing it as “extremely insulting.
On April 2, President David Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia, which has close ties with the U.S., expressed grave concern that if this security agreement is signed, the Pacific region could be drawn into a “U.S.-China war,” and on April 2 the Sogavare administration reiterated, “We know that inviting a Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands will cause consequences later on. We know that inviting a Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands will have repercussions later on. Under the control of the authorities, that will not happen,” and denied that the Solomon Islands would become a Chinese military base.
However, no matter how much Prime Minister Sogavare denies that the Solomon Islands will become a Chinese military base, it will not be convincing if we look at the way China has achieved a military base in the South China Sea during the eight years of the Obama administration. Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton has pointed out in the media that “China has already built 20 military bases on islands in the South China Sea while saying that the construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea is not for military purposes.
Countering the Chinese Encirclement Created in the Pacific
In an interview with Voice of America (VOA), Chen Wen-Jia, an advisor to Taiwan’s National Policy Council and a military strategy researcher on the Indo-Pacific, pointed out that the real aim of this consultation draft for China is to break through the US Indo-Pacific encirclement plan.
According to Chen Wenjia, this is China’s move to counter the creation of a security encirclement of China in the Pacific, such as the “QUAD” by the US, Australia, Japan, and India, followed by the “AUKUS” by the US, UK, and Australia, which was launched in September 2021.
After the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan, it concentrated its military resources in the Asia-Pacific region and proceeded to build QUAD and AUKUS. The intention is to prevent China from advancing into the Pacific by strengthening the defenses of the first island chain connecting Okinawa, Taiwan, and the Philippines; the second island chain connecting the Ogasawara Islands to Guam and Papua New Guinea; and the third island chain connecting Hawaii to American Samoa.
China views the present era as a period of restructuring of the international community, which has been circling in 100-year cycles, and is envisioning a new framework for the international community. It is the realization of its grand ambition to push back the U.S. military presence to the level of Hawaii, and to make Asia and the Indo-Pacific region west of Hawaii into a Chinese bloc.
Chen Wenjia sees this bargain as the essence of the current U.S.-China confrontation.
China Money’s Strategy
This year, however, the Ukraine issue, which had been the key to the security of Eastern Europe, burst out in the form of war, and the world’s attention turned in that direction. Rather than the U.S.-China confrontation, attention was focused on the U.S.-Russia confrontation over Ukraine, and in the process of sanctioning Russia, attention was focused on the way China would come out of it.
For China, when considering how to break through the double encirclement of QUAD and AUKUS, one way would be to break through the first island chain by unifying Taiwan. However, this is something that the U.S., Japan, and above all Taiwan itself are most wary of and prepared for.
Some thought that China might try something against Taiwan in the confusion of the war in Ukraine. However, the fact that Russia, which was said to have the world’s second largest military power, is having such a hard time capturing the small country of Ukraine must have made the Chinese realize that an invasion of Taiwan, which is surrounded by the sea, would be no easy task.
If this is the case, there is nothing better than crossing both the first and second island lines and invading Melanesia not by force but with China’s money.
Such an idea is not a new one, and with regard to the Solomon Islands, the power of China money led to diplomatic relations with Taiwan being severed in 2019, and the background to the November 2021 demonstrations demanding Sogavare’s resignation reflected this diplomatic battle between China and Taiwan over the Solomon Islands in the Solomon Islands’ internal politics. The power struggle was reflected in the internal politics of the Solomon Islands.
For some time, China has been conducting infiltration operations in the South Pacific island countries under the guise of its “One Belt, One Road” initiative and submarine cable laying project. In recent years, countries have begun to realize the security risks of having Chinese companies involved in submarine cable projects in the region, and there have been some attempts to exclude Chinese companies.
Chen Jiawen points out the significance of the security talks with the Solomon Islands, saying, “If signed, it would serve as a check against the U.S. encirclement of China and proclaim that the U.S. has successfully taken up position in the South Pacific.
If a Chinese Liberation Army naval base were to be established in the Solomon Islands, it would serve to break up the U.S.-Australian military alliance and “mean that China would have both the economic shield of One Belt, One Road and the contradiction of these security talks in the South Pacific. It will be able to advance operations to break through the second and third island chains together with forces from its home country that break through the first island chain in the East China Sea and Taiwan Strait” (Chen Wenjia).
Neighboring Countries Persuade Solomon Islands
Will the talks really be signed? The fact that the draft was leaked on the Internet at this time may indicate that there are forces within the Solomon Islands government and bureaucracy that believe that the current move to depend on China for security is not a good idea.
Is there still a chance to prevent the Solomon Islands from signing these talks? Australia has reportedly called on Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and other Pacific island nations to convey Australia’s concerns and persuade the Solomon Islands to do so.
If Chinese troops are brought into the region, the waters could become a nuclear heartland for the U.S.-China confrontation. This would increase the likelihood of a clash here, just as Ukraine has become the center of a battle between the U.S., Europe, and Russia over the restructuring of the security framework in Eastern Europe.
In the past, this region was the scene of fierce battles in which the U.S. and Japan shed blood. Japan may want to consider whether it can exert some influence to prevent a repeat of that history.