A new topic suddenly appeared on the international agenda. Tensions between China, on the one hand, and the United States and Australia, on the other, were complicated by a dispute over the Solomon Islands. This tiny state is located on numerous islands in the Pacific Ocean to the east of Australia (the position is strategically advantageous).
In early April, China signed a security agreement with the authorities of the Solomon Islands. The agreement includes training by China of local security forces and police, in particular to guard sports facilities for the 2023 Pacific Sports Games.
The other day, China handed over to the Solomon Islands a training track and a stadium football field for future games. According to the Prime Minister of the Islands, Manasse Sogaware, a security agreement with the PRC is necessary, among other things, so that the Chinese police can protect the Chinese-funded infrastructure major sporting event. The agreement is part of the general course of the new government of the Islands to strengthen partnerships with China. Opposition, stimulated by Australia, at the end of 2021, under the slogan of “fighting the strengthening of the role of China” in the internal affairs of the Islands, provoked riots and pogroms in Chinatown, which led to the death of four people. After that, Australia, taking advantage of the situation, sent its peacekeeping forces to the Islands.
Australia and the United States see the agreement, as well as the very fact of the rapprochement between China and the Solomon Islands, as a threat to their dominance in the South Pacific. Beijing and Honiara (the capital of the Solomon Islands) are accused of “non-transparent” agreements with goals that are not clear to Washington and Canberra.
Australia’s National Security College head Rory Medcalfe said the Solomon Islands deal would give China unprecedented military access to Australia, including the potential establishment of a Chinese base in the Islands. “If you read the document, it is literally an open door for a Chinese military presence in the Solomon Islands with permission to use force.”.
On April 22, a representative US delegation headed by Daniel Kritenbrink, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, visited the Solomon Islands. At a meeting with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogaware, the American side tried to find out the details of the agreement and dissuade the local authorities from using Chinese security services, accompanying the negotiations with threats.
The nervous reaction of the Anglo-Saxons is explained by the perception of the agreement, which reflected one Australian expert: “Australia cannot allow this deal to continue… If necessary, Australia should invade and change the regime in Honiara… If a Chinese naval base is allowed to develop so close to Australian shores, this is an effective end to our sovereignty and democracy… China has parked a huge fixed aircraft carrier in close proximity to every city in eastern Australia… It’s Australia’s Cuban missile crisis. This is our red line that China and the Pacific Islands must never cross.”.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry denied all statements regarding the intentions of the PRC to deploy a permanent military presence in the Islands and stressed that “security cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands, two sovereign states, is in line with international law, common international practice” I not directed at any third party. At a meeting with an American delegation, Sogaware assured that the deal does not involve China establishing a military base or a long-term presence.
It should be noted that Canberra spoiled the partnership, stable relations with Beijing literally “out of the blue.” From the moment the United States considered containment of China to be its main objective in international politics, Australia has become Washington’s most important stronghold in the Indo-Pacific region. A military partnership was formed AUCUS (USA, Britain, Australia), the main point of which is the arming of the Australian Navy with nuclear submarines. This undermined the security system in the Asia-Pacific region, creating a threat to China. Canberra instantly realized that the Chinese response to the creation of the bloc AUCUS came from the Solomon Islands.
There is also a domestic political (Australian) factor in the current aggravation in the South Pacific. As the federal elections in Australia approach (they should be held no later than May 21), Scott Morrison’s government and the opposition are competing in “patriotism” – who will shout louder about the “Chinese threat” and threaten Beijing.
The tiny island nation is trying to maneuver between the interests of the big powers. According to Tarsisius Kabutaulaka, a political scientist at the University of Hawaii in the Solomon Islands, “China – it is a power that must remain in the region… The task of the Pacific island states is to manage relations with both China and Western countries in a way that benefits them and ensures that they are not trampled upon.”.
At the same time, the small Pacific states do not show “same level of anxiety”like in Australia and New Zealand. The problem arises for the US and Australia to the extent that the aim of the Anglo-Saxons is to counteract attempts by other countries to develop relationships that could call Western hegemony into question.
The main reason for Australia’s sharp rejection of the agreement between the PRC and the Solomon Islands is that for a long time Canberra considered the South Pacific Ocean as its own backyard. Hence the persistent colonial habits.
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