In a move that shocked many in the region, the prime minister of the Solomon Islands confirmed Wednesday his nation has entered into a security agreement with China.
It’s the first of its kind for the communist nation in the region.
The easternmost island of the Solomon Islands chain is a little over 1,300 miles from the U.S. territory of American Samoa.
In other words, you’re talking about the distance from Maine to Florida, which is a little too close for comfort.
The Solomon Islands played a strategic role during World War II with the battles of Guadalcanal and Bougainville being fought there.
The island chain still holds a strategic place in the world because of its location near vital shipping lanes and in a region of the world China looks to dominate.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the U.S. and Australia have filled the role as the guarantor of security for the area.
In 2019, the Solomon Islands switched from diplomatically recognizing Taiwan to China.
“The Solomon Islands’ diplomatic U-turn to China away from Taiwan — and accusations of associated bribes — angered many in the archipelago and, combined with long-standing local grievances, led to widespread rioting in November that left four people dead and much of the capital of Honiara burned to the ground,” the Post reported.
#breaking Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare addresses Parliament – confirms newly signed security deal with China arguing it will address vulnerabilities and gaps pic.twitter.com/MPuK9GdCnV
— Andrew Greene (@AndrewBGreene) April 19, 2022
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare dismissed concerns that the terms of the agreement, which have not been made public, undermine his nation’s sovereignty.
“Let me assure the people that we entered into an arrangement with China with our eyes wide open, guided by our national interests,” Sogavare said in a statement to the National Parliament.
“We have full understanding of the fragility of peace, and our duty as a state is to protect all people, their property and critical national infrastructures,” he said.
The prime minister added that China will not be building a military base in the Solomon Islands.
Nonetheless, a draft of the security pact leaked in March set off alarm bells.
The draft security cooperation agreement between China and Solomon Islands has been linked on social media and raises a lot of questions (and concerns). (photos of agreement in this and below tweet) 1/6 pic.twitter.com/nnpnJJQC7r
— Dr Anna Powles (@AnnaPowles) March 24, 2022
If the deal resembles the draft, “It’s a game changer,” Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, told The New York Times.
“To start, it provides a broad mandate for China to potentially intervene when its foreign investments and diaspora are under threat, as it stretches its projection of military power,” the news outlet reported.
“In the draft, almost anything tied to China, from its citizens to small businesses to infrastructure to stadiums — like the one a Chinese contractor is building in the capital, Honiara — could be enough to spur a request for Chinese troops” from the Sogavare government.
Peter Kenilorea Jr. — the deputy opposition leader in the Solomon Islands’ Parliament and chairman of its foreign relations committee — told the Times, “This agreement is not in the interests of Solomon Islands at all.”
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“It’s in the interests of Beijing and the interest of the current government. It’s to keep them in power.”
Sogavare’s announcement came just days before two senior American diplomats — Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council Indo-Pacific coordinator, and Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs — were due to arrive.
.@StateDeptSpox: @USAsiaPacific Assistant Secretary Daniel J. Kritenbrink and National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell will lead a delegation to Fiji, Papua New Guinea & the Solomon Islands to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. pic.twitter.com/ORRkla5AqM
— Department of State (@StateDept) April 18, 2022
Hopefully, this is not like many of the Biden administration’s foreign policy initiatives so far: a day late and a dollar short.
There are consequences for projecting weakness around the world, and China’s inroads into the Solomon Islands appear to be the latest example.