Beijing and the Solomon Islands have “initialled” a controversial security pact that will allow the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to station armed police, troops, weaponry, and even naval ships on the Island—exacerbating existing concerns of Chinese militarisation in the region.
On March 31, the Chinese Ambassador Li Ming, and Solomons’ Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Colin Beck, released a media statement announcing an official signing of the “Framework Agreement Between the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Government of Solomon Islands on Security Cooperation.”
The Agreement, if fully implemented, would expand Beijing’s reach beyond the South China Sea and into the heart of the South Pacific region—just 1,700 kilometres (1,056 miles) from Australia’s east coast.
The leaders said the agreement would “strengthen bilateral cooperation” between China and the Solomon Islands, and bring “certainties into the security environment” of the region.
Article 1 allows the Solomon Islands to request that China “send police, armed police, military personnel, and other law enforcement and armed forces to the Solomon Islands to assist in maintaining social order.”
Article 2 outlined that Beijing could, according to its own needs, and “with the consent of Solomon Islands, make ship visits to carry out logistical replenishment in, and have stopover and transition in the Solomon Islands, and the relevant forces of China can be used to protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands.”
Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton responded saying the CCP was taking “very aggressive” action.
“We need to be very cautious here because the Chinese are incredibly aggressive, the tactics that they’re deploying into small island nations are quite remarkable,” he told Sky News Australia on April 1.
He warned that Australia should “never take peace for granted” and said the government was working to “deter aggression and maintain” peace.
David Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, appealed to Solomons’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to “respectfully reject and give deepest consideration” to the long-term consequences of the deal.
“As much as your bilateral security arrangement may be strictly a matter between your country and the PRC, its existence would absolutely affect all countries who call the ‘Blue Pacific’ their home,” he said in a statement. “The Federated States of Micronesia cannot endorse or agree if your decision is to proceed with a security relationship with the PRC because of its far-reaching and grave security implications for our harmonious and peaceful Blue Pacific Continent.”
Prof. Anne-Marie Brady, a China expert based at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, accused Beijing of “repeatedly” trying to gain access to militarily significant airfields and ports in the region.
“China provides weapons, military vehicles and vessels, uniforms, training, and military buildings” to the armed forces of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Vanuatu, and now the Solomon Islands, the academic wrote on Twitter.
“China uses People’s Liberation Army (PLA)—Navy vessels to conduct regular military visits to the Pacific. PLA Yuanwang space-tracking vessels deploy to the Pacific during missile and satellite launches, using (French Polynesia’s capital) Papeete and (Fiji’s capital) Suva as their base ports,” she said.
“China is using its Pacific embassies as sites for Beidou ground stations. Like GPS, it is a military technology, crucial for missile targeting.”
Meanwhile, Sogavare has been defiant in the face of criticism of the deal, calling those who leaked details of the Agreement “lunatics and agents of foreign regimes.”
Cleo Paskal, an associate fellow of the Asia-Pacific Programme at Chatham House, an independent policy institute in London, said Sogavare could attempt to solidify his hold on power after the Agreement with Beijing is locked in.
“[Sogavare could say,] ‘We need outside help to come and create stability in the country, and our friends China will come and do it,’” Paskal previously told The Epoch Times. “And that’s when they arrest the leaders, the Malaitan leaders, and God forbid what happens to them in detention.”
She said Australia and New Zealand should try to reinvigorate the democratic process in the country—via the 2000 Townsville Peace Agreement—to put more pressure on Sogavare.
“Put out the steps that the various provinces, including Malaita, agreed to. There’s a whole series of things that have already been negotiated—everybody signed on, including the government under Sogavare,” she said.
Meanwhile Michael Shoebridge from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute called on Pacific leaders to increase pressure on the embattled Sogavare.
“The actual physical experience of having China act inside the Solomons in the way this agreement sets out … will be so obviously at odds with the Solomon Islands’ own sovereignty and security,” he said. “A democratic Solomon Islands will end this, but for now the current government seems determined to create this problem for itself and the region.”