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INTERNATIONAL > East Asia & Pacific

Editorial: China’s Solomon Islands deal risks militarizing South Pacific

  • April 27, 2022
  • , Nikkei Asia , 2:45 p.m.
  • English Press

Archipelago is key transportation hub for U.S. and Japanese vessels

 

China and the Solomon Islands have signed a security agreement thought to allow for the dispatch of Chinese troops to the archipelago and for Chinese ships to make port calls in the country. This could lead to a Chinese military presence in the South Pacific.

 

The Solomon Islands, located 2,000 km northeast of Australia, are a key transportation hub for U.S. and Japanese vessels. The island of Guadalcanal — home to the nation’s capital, Honiara — is famous as the site of a fierce World War II battle.

 

The contents of the security agreement have not been made public, but a leaked draft triggered an outpouring of concern from the U.S., Australia and others. Australia sent a ministerial-level delegation to the Solomon Islands this month to encourage the country to change course. Kurt Campbell, the Indo-Pacific coordinator for the U.S. National Security Council, also visited the country, and the two sides agreed to launch a strategic dialogue.

 

The Solomon Islands broke off diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 2019 and established relations with Beijing. Since then, the country’s tilt toward China has been notable. With no army of its own, the Solomon Islands government let Chinese police officials enter the country to help enforce public security when protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare turned violent last year.

 

The U.S. and Australia have been working to check China’s expansion into the Indo-Pacific, bolstering their multilateral security frameworks such as the Quad, which also includes Japan and India, and AUKUS, which includes the U.K.

 

In AUKUS, the U.S. and the U.K. will license nuclear submarine technology to Australia, and Canberra has announced plans to build a base for it in the eastern part of the country. But China will be able to monitor U.S. and Australian troop movements more easily if it regularly sends ships to the Solomon Islands and uses the country as a de facto base.

 

In recent years, China has increased its influence over the likes of Kiribati and Vanuatu through economic cooperation. If China also signs a Solomon Islands-type of agreement with these Pacific island countries, it would inevitably raise military tension in the South Pacific.

 

Japan has hosted the Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting every three years since 1997, building friendly relations with the island nations of the South Pacific. We hope Japan further strengthens its outreach — in cooperation with the U.S. and Australia — to prevent China from militarizing the region.

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