A recent leaked report reveals that the Solomon Islands has drafted a security agreement with China, reports CBS News. This agreement would allow China to deploy military personnel and armed police in the islands, as well as permit Chinese warships to visit the nation, according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies. Though the leaked document has yet to be formalized, it has generated significant international concern and criticism.
The draft, also known as the ‘Framework Agreement,’ has piqued the concern of Australian officials, according to CNN, as it fits with the expressed interest of the Solomon Islands to further develop its ties with China. This is worrisome to Australia and the United States, nations that have expressed concerns over growing Chinese influence in the region, as China has also grown its maritime capabilities and increased aggressiveness in the South China Sea.
Al Jazeera states that Australia fears the development of a permanent Chinese military operation in what it views as its own backyard, as the Solomon Islands are just a 4-hour plane ride from Australia. Australia has historically been the largest donor of aid in the region, providing tens of millions of dollars for development in the region, as well as funding healthcare, security, and telecommunications projects. The Solomon Islands has expressed its intentions to maintain its relationship and existing security pact with Australia while simultaneously expanding its relationship with China to the benefit of the Islands’ education, trade, and civil aviation programs. However, as China’s influence expands, Australian officials are beginning to respond.
The Center for Strategic & International Studies adds that the agreement comes just 5 months after peacekeepers deployed by Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and New Guinea entered the nation at the request of the Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. The nation had experienced deadly riots for two days prior to the intervention, sparked by tensions that had simmered since Sogavare switched allegiance from Taiwan to China without public consultation. This evolved into violence targeted toward citizens of Chinese descent. The Solomon Islands faced similar events in 1998, sparked by the unequal distribution of resources by the nation’s government to the province on the island of Malaita.
China’s proposed deal with the Solomon Islands is part of a greater pattern of China’s increasing international influence gained through forming connections with developing nations. This can be seen around the globe as Forbes reports that most infrastructure initiatives across Africa are backed by Chinese funding or are managed by Chinese companies. Furthermore, Foreign Affairs explains that China is expanding its strategic and military ties with states such as Russia, Pakistan, and Iran. Security pacts such as the Framework Agreement show that, despite years of isolation, China is increasingly eager to expand its network and take on a more prominent international role. China’s funding of foreign projects has allowed the nation to form strong partnerships with resource-rich developing nations that can help support Chinese manufacturing.
The U.S. fears that Chinese expansion into the South Pacific could upset its position as the predominant world military power. The United States has military bases all around the world, allowing it to react to conflicts in any part of the world at a moment’s notice. However, should China continue proposing security pacts such as that with the Solomon Islands, the world could cease to rely on the U.S. for assuaging their security concerns. This could foretell greater changes in the international order.