Why did China’s Solomon Islands pact piss off the US?

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The Solomon Islands sent shock waves across the Pacific by signing a security cooperation pact with China. The island nation had come under pressure from traditional allies Australia and the United States to reject the deal as they sought to counter China’s growing influence in the region. The Solomon Islands leader told his parliament that the pact would not undermine “the peace and harmony of our region”. This did not allay concerns about a possible Chinese naval base just 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from Australia.

1. What is the pact about?

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on April 19 – the day the pact was announced – that the cooperation would include “the maintenance of social order, the protection and safety of life and property of people, humanitarian aid and response to natural disasters, to help Solomon Islands build capacity and ensure their own security According to an Associated Press report, Prime Minister Mannesseh Sogavare told his parliament in Honiara a day later that he would authorize China to send police and military to the Solomon Islands “to help maintain social order. Chinese warships could also stop there for a ” logistics resupply”. Sogavare insisted the pact would not allow China to build a military base – a concern that arose after a draft copy leaked online in late March – e He firmly asserted his country’s right to an independent foreign policy.

2. How did the business come about?

Chinese diplomats have courted Sogavare for years and he has returned the favor by strengthening relations with the Asian superpower, including a controversial decision to transfer the country’s diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in September 2019. This change was one factors of growing inner turmoil. between the government of Sogavare and the province of Malaita, the most populous island with a third of the country’s 650,000 inhabitants. Daniel Suidani, who leads Malaita, strongly criticized the shift to the decision to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Anti-China protesters demanded Sogavare’s resignation last year, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported, while the Solomon Islands Herald said shops in the capital’s Chinatown were looted and damaged. Sogavare called on Australian troops to help quell the unrest even as he accused “other powers” of fostering anti-China sentiment. A few months later came the security pact with China.

3. What is the meaning?

China has long been trying to bolster its presence in the Asia-Pacific, including bolstering its navy and building military installations on disputed islands in the South China Sea. War hawks in Australia and the United States have warned that this security cooperation pact could pave the way for Chinese military hardware and possibly a naval base in the South Pacific, although this is not the case. immediately. Announcing the pact in Beijing, Wang Wenbin criticized Western efforts to block it, saying, “We must emphasize that the South Pacific island countries are not the backyard of any country, much less a pawn for a rivalry. geopolitics”.

The United States has long touted its alliances in the Pacific as part of efforts to counter China’s growing economic, political and military influence in the region. They include a new defense deal with Australia and the UK, known as Aukus, sealed last year and an older group known as Quad which includes Australia, Japan and India. President Joe Biden’s East Asian czar Kurt Campbell visited the islands on April 22 and had what a White House statement later called a “substantial discussion” with Sogavare about the pact. He said the United States had expressed “clear areas of concern” and that Sogavare had “reiterated its specific assurances that there would be no military base, no long-term presence and no projection capability. of power” for China. He also said that the United States and the Solomon Islands had agreed to establish a high-level strategic dialogue.

5. What does this mean for Australia?

The Australian government, which the South Pacific region has long looked to for support, has expressed concern that the deal will “undermine stability”. More immediately, this could become an issue in the upcoming national elections in Australia. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has portrayed himself as tough on national security, but the diplomatic loss provides ammunition for attacks on his government’s record. Shadow Foreign Secretary Penny Wong called the signing of the security agreement “the worst failure of Australian foreign policy in the Pacific since the end of the Second World War”.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com

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