In a sign of strong ongoing ties between Beijing and the Solomon Islands governments, officials from both countries have signed off on the construction of a new medical centre at the National Referral Hospital in the capital Honiara.
The hospital is the largest in the Pacific nation, with 300 beds and 50 doctors, while the new centre will focus on diagnosing heart problems before expanding into specialised renal services and other noncommunicable diseases.
“A big thank you to the government and people of China,” Pauline McNeil, health permanent secretary, said in a statement released by the Solomons government.
McNeil signed the minutes of an on-site feasibility study with the deputy head of the Chinese Embassy to the Solomon Islands, Yao Ming.
Meanwhile, Japanese delegates on May 3 also signed off on initial studies for the construction of Kilu’ufi Hospital in the neighbouring province of Malaita.
The actions of Tokyo and Beijing reflect an ongoing battle for influence in the Pacific between democratic nations and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Concerns have been heightened significantly in recent weeks following the signing of a security pact between the CCP and Solomon Islands national government that could open the door to the militarisation of the South Pacific region similar to the South China Sea.
According to a leaked draft of the “Security Cooperation between the Solomon Islands and the People’s Republic of China (PRC),” Beijing would be able to dispatch police, troops, weapons, and even naval ships with the consent of the Solomon Islands, to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands.”
The Solomon Islands was the site of extensive fighting during World War II—resulting in more than 7,000 casualties to the Allied forces—because of its critical position and influence over vital sea lanes.
Despite appeals from Australian, Japanese, and U.S. authorities, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has stood by the deal.
Sogavare is deeply unpopular in the country—which has a history of civil strife—and there are concerns he could attempt to prevent the 2023 national election from going ahead by engineering a false-flag event.
South Pacific expert Cleo Paskal has called for democratic nations to stop engaging with the prime minister in the hopes of changing his mind, and to instead hold him to account for the implementation of the 2000 Townsville Peace Agreement, which ushered in an era of stability and national government for the country.
Retired U.S. Marine Col. Grant Newsham, meanwhile, has called on democratic allies to shine a spotlight on allegations of bribery perpetrated by the CCP.
“Every deal signed with a Chinese or other foreign company in the Solomons should be exposed to public scrutiny,” the senior fellow at the Yorktown Institute wrote in The Epoch Times. “Besides undercutting Beijing’s subversion efforts, transparency and revealing corrupt activities bolster local politicians and groups that want honest and consensual government and oppose CCP domination.”