There are indications China and the Solomon Islands are near a security agreement that could lead to the basing of Chinese troops, aircraft and warships on the island. The agreement remained secret until Thursday evening when opponents of the agreement leaked it online. Hours later, the Australian government verified its authenticity, raising concerns around the Pacific region. If China is allowed to establish basing rights and a significant military presence on and around the Solomons, it will cause problems for the security of Australia and New Zealand, as well as introduce the prospect of resource exploitation.
If the agreement is signed into law, it gives Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of the Solomon Islands the ability to call on China for protection of his own government. Last year, amid unrest brought on by Sogavare’s open courting of China, Australian law enforcement officers deployed to the Solomons essentially to save Sogavare and his government.
An unnerving section of the agreement states, “Solomon Islands may, according to its own needs, request China to send police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces to Solomon Islands to assist in maintaining social order, protecting people’s lives and property.”
With this clause, the prospect of widescale unrest in the Solomons prior to next year’s election leading to Chinese intervention to maintain Sogavare’s hold on power becomes very real. As the guarantor of the islands’ security, Australia reacted to the document leak and its contents at once. “We would be concerned by any actions that destabilize the security of our region,” Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement soon after the pact was made public. “Members of the Pacific family are best placed to respond to situations affecting Pacific regional security.”
China has been making inroads in the South Pacific gradually over the years. In the Solomons, Beijing has found a willing partner in Sogavare, forcing Australia and the United States to play catch up at a time when the attention of both nations is centered elsewhere.