A leaked draft security agreement between the Solomon Islands with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) revealed a six-article of the “Framework Agreement.” The Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, acknowledged that the country wanted to broaden its security cooperation with the PRC. The Solomon Islands later formalized the agreement with China despite growing concerns and criticism from Australia, New Zealand, and Taiwan. The Solomon Islands responded to the criticism by insulting them as he believed the Solomon Islands had the authority to manage its domestic affairs.
Indeed, as a sovereign nation, the Solomon Islands has full authority to define and decide its domestic or foreign policies. Nevertheless, why do the Solomon Islands and China need the security pact? Why does it raise disapproval from other nations in the Pacific?
China provides security assistance for the Solomon Islands
The leaked document states that “The 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 the Solomon Islands to assist in maintaining social order, protecting people’s lives and property.” Not only that, the document also states that “China under the Solomon Islands’ approval could make a ship visit to carry out logistical replenishment, and protect Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands.” From a security perspective, many countries request for foreign military aid for counterinsurgency efforts. Requesting foreign military support was not the first time for the Solomon Islands, as Australia had assisted Solomon Islands’ stability when riots took place in the Solomon Islands. Yet, unlike another security pact, the agreement with China somewhat ‘upgraded’ to a more deepened military access to Solomon Islands territory.
Why did China support the pact? The documents signify that China could operate varied military and secret service operations in the Solomon Islands territory under Solomon Islands’ consent. The document’s phrases signal that China may create another Chinese military base in other countries, just like in Djibouti. Though both China and the Solomon Islands have denied the new pact will lead to an establishment of the Chinese military, the agreement shows how clever China’s approach is. Not only advancing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the military support in the Solomon Islands provide a legal and clear way for China to conduct a military operation and other confidential tasks in the Solomon Islands area. The terms of “its own needs” have no limitation and clear definition yet; thus, China could potentially exploit the deal for its ‘legitimate’ interests.
Why is the security pact important for the Solomon Islands?
Anthony Veke, Solomon Islands Minister for Police, National Security, and Correctional Services, confirmed that the MoU aims to build meaningful cooperation, develop, and strengthen the Solomon Islands. The Solomon Islands has stated that the partnership with China is similar to the security agreements with New Zealand and other countries, so nothing is to worry about. The Solomon Islands has been in a fragile social and political situation for a long time; therefore, they ask for support from other countries, including Australia, to deploy more police and military personnel in times of crisis and riots in their home country. As usual, the Australian government will provide security aid to the Solomon Islands government and stress that there is no interference in the internal affairs of the Solomon Islands.
As the Solomon Islands faced multiple anti-government protests for years, it wanted to broaden its security cooperation with other nations. The recent security pacts with China do not mean that the Solomon Islands need more military or security support, but rather for political and economic purposes. There isn’t any such thing as free lunch. There is a cost to everything, including the security pacts between the Solomon Islands and PRC. As Solomon Islands PM, Sogavare stated the country is still working on several development frameworks with China to secure and provide more local and foreign investment in the Solomon Islands.
All nations should build international cooperation to fulfill their need, and in the industrialization process, where China stands out. Eliti Sato (2010) argues that there is a weakened ideological bias to associate national industrialization and social development policies with strategies to build networks of international cooperation. Aside from the ideological differences, China seeks partnerships with the developing nations to boost their market production and ensure there is an enormous supply of raw materials for their economic consumption. When it comes to the economy, ideology becomes less and less important, as it can be seen that in replacement for more investment, the Solomon government permits PRC to have more access to secure some major companies and infrastructure in the nations.
Moreover, Manasseh Sogavare also views that the Solomon Islands have chosen to be on ‘the right side of history and normalize the relationship with the PRC. Sogavare has been a pro-China as there is a claim from the opposition leader, Matthew Wale, that Sogavare uses Chinese funds for supporting his government. Sogavare told the Australian reporters in 2019 that Taiwan is completely useless both in politics and economics. Again, China has used its economic and financial power to isolate Taiwan and, at the same time, boost its influence and diplomatic allies with the Solomon Islands. From the Solomon Islands’ perspective, the nations are unwilling to be dragged into a situation where they have to choose sides.
China’s rise is a challenge to other Pacific nations
The Solomon Islands has been in a security agreement with Australia since 2018, and the Australian government supports the Solomon Islands to secure the nations. Australia has been a generous donor in assisting the Solomon Islands’ security and stability. Now with the new security pacts and different leaders, there is a change in the security, politics, and economic dynamics between the Solomon Islands and China. The new security pact with China implies some aspects that the Australian and New Zealand government could not offer.
The Australian government flies to the Solomon Islands to talk about the Chinese-Solomon Islands security pact. Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja said that Australia is trying to strengthen its relations with the Solomon Islands. Australia has failed the Solomon Islands, and it lost its influence in the nations. As the Chinese came, Australia was alarmed that there would be a burden on its shipping routes and regional stability. Chinese economic, military and political expansion is a clear threat to Australia and Pacific nations and other allies in the West.
Not only that, there is the possibility that the security of critical data and information may jeopardize. The closer the Chinese military equipment, the bigger it has the chance to disarrange the stability in the region. Similar to the West, its allies in Indo-Pacific also seek a free and open Indo-Pacific. An open and transparent Indo Pacific is the goal to secure the region’s stability.