Beijing Likely to ‘Move Quickly’ to Militarise Solomon Islands: Defence Expert

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will move quickly to establish a “military footprint” in the Solomon Islands after concluding a contentious security deal that opens the door for Beijing to station troops and weapons in the country, according to a defence expert.Australian and U.S. leaders were caught wrong-footed by the emergence of the secret deal in late March, sparking a flurry of diplomatic activity to compel Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to change his mind. Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, warned that the CCP would “lose no time in moving quickly” to capitalise on the recently finalised “Security Cooperation between Solomon Islands and the People’s Republic of China (PRC).” The deal, in essence, would allow the CCP—with the consent of the Solomons—to dispatch police, troops, weapons, and even naval ships to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands,” based on leaked pages from the document. “China believes in creating facts on the ground,” Jennings told Sky News Australia on April 20. “We will very quickly see the next steps being taken for China to establish a military footprint in Honiara, and I think that’s something we need to work very hard—hopefully in a bipartisan way—to prevent from happening.” Jennings later told the Sydney Morning Herald that he expected Beijing to capitalise on Australia’s election period (until May 21) when the government is in caretaker mode. Australia and New Zealand have long maintained a security presence in the region. Meanwhile, questions have been raised about the effectiveness of Australia’s diplomatic engagement in the region by the centre-left opposition Labor Party, who called the signing of the Security Cooperation deal the “worst foreign policy blunder.” “The government should have acted sooner. We live in a world where the strategic circumstances we face are riskier and more uncertain than in any time since the end of World War II,” Penny Wong, the Labor foreign spokesperson, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on April 20. However, Jennings said it would have made little difference which party oversaw the country. “This is not a problem of Australia’s making,” he said. “It is the making of Prime Minister Sogavare of the Solomon Islands, who I think many people would agree, appears to have been co-opted by the Chinese.” “There’s a lot of speculation around Honiara that there is a great deal of Chinese money washing around the elites in the country, and I don’t think that that’s unconnected to the agreement that’s now been struck.” Corruption has plagued the national government, with Erin McKee, the U.S. ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, warning in December against the misuse of aid funding following violent protests that saw the Chinatown precinct in Honiara razed. “I ask you to decide for yourself what type of development and future you want for you and your families. Do you want aid that benefits one person, one party, and one bank account?” she said in a statement. The protests were the culmination of ongoing dissatisfaction with the Sogavare government over issues such as poor service delivery, bribery, and weak economic development. “Natural resources are removed from our islands, and our people are poorer after that,” according to a statement from Matthew Wale, opposition leader of the Solomon Islands. “No tangible sustainable development has resulted from this exploitative economy. The country’s wealth goes overseas through unrestrained transfer pricing, aided, and abetted by the country’s leaders.” Follow Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected]

Beijing Likely to ‘Move Quickly’ to Militarise Solomon Islands: Defence Expert

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will move quickly to establish a “military footprint” in the Solomon Islands after concluding a contentious security deal that opens the door for Beijing to station troops and weapons in the country, according to a defence expert.

Australian and U.S. leaders were caught wrong-footed by the emergence of the secret deal in late March, sparking a flurry of diplomatic activity to compel Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to change his mind.

Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, warned that the CCP would “lose no time in moving quickly” to capitalise on the recently finalised “Security Cooperation between Solomon Islands and the People’s Republic of China (PRC).”

The deal, in essence, would allow the CCP—with the consent of the Solomons—to dispatch police, troops, weapons, and even naval ships to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands,” based on leaked pages from the document.

“China believes in creating facts on the ground,” Jennings told Sky News Australia on April 20. “We will very quickly see the next steps being taken for China to establish a military footprint in Honiara, and I think that’s something we need to work very hard—hopefully in a bipartisan way—to prevent from happening.”

Jennings later told the Sydney Morning Herald that he expected Beijing to capitalise on Australia’s election period (until May 21) when the government is in caretaker mode.

Australia and New Zealand have long maintained a security presence in the region.

Meanwhile, questions have been raised about the effectiveness of Australia’s diplomatic engagement in the region by the centre-left opposition Labor Party, who called the signing of the Security Cooperation deal the “worst foreign policy blunder.”

“The government should have acted sooner. We live in a world where the strategic circumstances we face are riskier and more uncertain than in any time since the end of World War II,” Penny Wong, the Labor foreign spokesperson, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on April 20.

However, Jennings said it would have made little difference which party oversaw the country.

“This is not a problem of Australia’s making,” he said. “It is the making of Prime Minister Sogavare of the Solomon Islands, who I think many people would agree, appears to have been co-opted by the Chinese.”

“There’s a lot of speculation around Honiara that there is a great deal of Chinese money washing around the elites in the country, and I don’t think that that’s unconnected to the agreement that’s now been struck.”

Corruption has plagued the national government, with Erin McKee, the U.S. ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, warning in December against the misuse of aid funding following violent protests that saw the Chinatown precinct in Honiara razed.

“I ask you to decide for yourself what type of development and future you want for you and your families. Do you want aid that benefits one person, one party, and one bank account?” she said in a statement.

The protests were the culmination of ongoing dissatisfaction with the Sogavare government over issues such as poor service delivery, bribery, and weak economic development.

“Natural resources are removed from our islands, and our people are poorer after that,” according to a statement from Matthew Wale, opposition leader of the Solomon Islands. “No tangible sustainable development has resulted from this exploitative economy. The country’s wealth goes overseas through unrestrained transfer pricing, aided, and abetted by the country’s leaders.”


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Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected]