The South Pacific Islands have always been a vital and strategic region for the U.S. Now China has an unusual interest in the island region and has tried to convince 10 nations to sign a Security Pact that would allow China to have a strategic military base there.
The U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and all the Pacific Islands were put on alert because the Pact would grant Chinese military troops the right to take over the internal security of each signatory nation. The aim, supposedly, is to train police and provide cyber protection, expand political ties, conduct sensitive marine mapping, and access natural resources on land and water.
Not surprisingly, Pacific nations questioned the favorable aspects of the agreement, considering the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) history of human rights abuses and recent developments involving the CCP, such as the Hong Kong Security Act and severe threats of war on Taiwan.
On May 30, in Fiji, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with South Pacific Island leaders to convince them to sign the Security Pact. However, according to Breitbart via AFP, the 10 nations diplomatically rejected the proposal, something the CCP did not expect.
Despite the CCP promising the signatory countries millions of dollars in financial assistance and lucrative free trade with China, they did not agree to sign the Pact.
The Papua New Guinea Islands, Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau were the nations that questioned the Pact, especially since these countries recognized Taiwan’s independence.
David Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, warned the island nations in a letter that the CCP’s offer was “bogus” and would “ensure Chinese influence in government” and “economic control” in key development industries.
It seems that China will not give up so easily and proposed to improve some points of the Pact and even offer them the Belt and Road Agreement.
Risks faced by the island region in signing a security pact with China
On April 1, Manasseh Sogavare, Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, agreed to sign a Security Pact with China, causing international concern. At the time, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tasked International Development and Pacific Minister Zed Seselja to travel to the Solomon Islands to raise awareness of the risks the security deal with China would bring to the region, according to the AP.
“We have respectfully asked the Solomon Islands to consider not signing the agreement and consult with the Pacific family in a spirit of regional openness and transparency, consistent with our region’s security frameworks,” Seselja said.
But, the Pact with China would be favorable to Sovagare and his idea of eroding democracy, suggesting delaying next year’s elections and rewriting the constitution to remain in power, which would end in a social outburst. To achieve this, he would rely on the security of the Chinese regime, The New York Times reported.
With the Pact, China will protect its economic interests in the signatory countries with its military forces, said Richard Herr, a law professor at the University of Tasmania who has advised several Pacific governments.
“And whether that means opening trade routes, establishing a military installation or signing a security agreement, Beijing will act in its own self-interest, to the detriment of democracy and an open and free world,” said Charles Edel, president and senior adviser at Australia’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
However, Sogavare has not heeded warnings from Australia, the United States or other Pacific island nations that have expressed concerns.
Moreover, a Chinese security base in the Solomon Islands would leave Australia and New Zealand exposed at their entrances and allow China to be close to Guam, i.e., the huge U.S. military bases, AP reported.
Currently, the United States has a robust military presence in the region through the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command of some 375,000 military and civilian personnel, 2,460 aircraft and 200 warships, including five aircraft carrier strike groups. The Pentagon has also prioritized the construction of U.S. military bases in Guam and Australia to counter China’s influence. In addition, the island of Palau will collaborate with U.S. bases on its territory, CFR reported.
In this context, the U.S. will even reopen an embassy in the Solomon Islands to re-establish its presence in the island territory.
China benefits from the Solomon Islands security pact
The CPP has always seen the Pacific Islands as a vital component of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as it is a significant cargo hub connecting Asia with Central and South America, CFR reported.
The Chinese regime has invested in the Pacific Islands in mining, fisheries, aquaculture, port construction, and other related areas. From 2010 to 2020, total trade in fishery products between China and the Pacific Islands increased from $35 million to $112 million.
Under the Security Pact, China would have the freedom to bring ships to the Pacific Islands, could make logistical replacements and make stopovers and transitions in the region, according to a clause in the draft agreement with the Solomon Islands.
But incredibly, the Security Pact will provide China with the authority to use military force to protect its interests and investments, The New York Times reported.
For example, Chinese officials suggested the need for security during several days of violent unrest in the Solomon Islands in November. However, any situation involving Chinese companies’ infrastructure could be enough to spur a request for Chinese troops.
Many other countries that agreed to sign economic agreements with China could be in the same situation and agree to the entry of the Chinese military into their territories.
On the other hand, from a military point of view, the Pacific Islands were a focal point in World War II, and for China today this chain of islands can strategically play a decisive role in blocking vital shipping routes in the world.