In Australia’s Backyard – China Inks Pact With Solomon Islands To Set Up A Possible ‘Military Base’ In The Region?

The Solomon Island government’s confirmation on the security deal with China has alarmed both Australia and New Zealand who see it as a move for the superpower to get a strong foothold in their backyard.

“The government is working to sign off and implement several development frameworks with China to further create a secure and safe environment for local and foreign investments,” read the statement from the office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The government issued the statement after the deal’s draft was circulating on social media.

According to the leaked papers, Beijing will be allowed to deploy forces to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands.” The island nation could also “request China to send police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces,” according to the document.

Besides, there is a provision for China to “make ship visits, to carry out logistical replenishment in, and have stopover and transition in the Solomon Islands.”

The arrangement comes at a time when Australia and the US have become wary of China in the region, particularly after reports of recent Chinese military build-up on three islands in the South China Sea.

“We want peace and stability in the region. We don’t want unsettling influences and we don’t want pressure and coercion that we are seeing from China continuing to roll out in the region,” Australia’s Defense Minister Peter Dutton said in an interview with Channel Nine news.

“We would be concerned at any military base being established and we would express that to the Solomon Islands government,” Dutton further added.

China’s nuclear-powered Type 094A Jin-class ballistic missile submarine.

A Significant Move By Beijing

Analysts have said that such an agreement is poised to have a significant impact on the balance of security in the region as it would complicate Australia’s ability to move submarines, ships, and aircraft along its eastern coast which is only 2,000 km from the Solomon Islands.

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said that the draft agreement would make Honiara available to Chinese naval and intelligence ships.

Furthermore, the Chinese military presence in the Solomon Islands will enable Beijing to break through the encirclement by US armed forces that are present in the region such as in Guam, Japan, and South Korea by positioning its forces behind them thereby outflanking the US.

China may use the Solomon Islands as a deployment and refueling hub to deny US forces the ability to project power by threatening their logistical supply lines.

This could place also raise concerns among America’s allies who look to Washington for the supply of military equipment in the event of a conflict with China. For example, the US may find it difficult to intervene if China decides to invade Taiwan to forcefully reunite the island nation with the mainland.

Massive Geostrategic Value

Nevertheless, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a media briefing on March 25, that this agreement was “in line with the international law and international practice, conducive to maintaining social order in the Solomon Islands and promoting peace and stability in the region, and helpful to enhance common interests of China and the Solomon Islands, as well as all countries in the region.” He urged Australia to “see this objectively and calmly, and refrain from over-interpreting it.”

China-missile boat
PLA Navy’s fast attack missile boats during an exercise in the East China Sea on February 22, 2022.

China’s fast-growing foothold within the Pacific Island Country (PIC) has been a growing concern for the US and its allies because of the geostrategic value of this region.

During World War II, Imperial Japan and the US vied for control over these islands as they were critical for maintaining logistical supply lines and projecting military power.

An official from the Solomon Islands government told Reuters that the security treaty with China would need to go to the cabinet for discussion.

Australia’s Minister for the Pacific, Zed Seselja has indicated that he has already started lobbying other Pacific Island states to register their concerns with the Solomon Islands over the deal.

He said Australia’s High Commissioner, Lachlan Strahan, had also directly registered Australia’s concerns with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

“It is a draft agreement, so there will be discussions taking place between our government and Solomon Islands government and [our] Pacific counterparts,” Seselja said.