China Coopts US Allies in the Pacific: Solomon Islands Now, Micronesia Next

News AnalysisThe Chinese regime has co-opted the Solomon Islands and is now set on removing the Federated States of Micronesia from its Compact of Free Association with the United States. On March 25, the Solomon Islands confirmed that it was drafting a security deal with China. With this single contract, the United States loses a valuable ally in a critical part of the world, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will gain a new overseas base, and Australia has been placed on alert knowing that the enemy is now in its backyard. The strategic partnership with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) allows Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, to call for police or military assistance from Beijing. It also provides the Solomons with economic development, trade expansion, and civil aviation services. But citizens are wary of Chinese influence. In 2006, rioters burned down Honiara’s Chinatown, accusing Chinese-linked businesses of having rigged a general election. In 2019, Honiara switched recognition from Taiwan to China. Last year, unrest broke out again, partially motivated by the people’s resentment at their government’s abandonment of Taiwan. Citizens also expressed outrage at how close their government was becoming to Beijing. In a repeat of 2006, protesters looted and burnt Chinese-owned businesses. In the end, Australian peacekeepers and military police were called in to restore order. Next time, it could be the PLA. The draft agreement between China and the Solomons explicitly allows the PLA to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects … [and] preserve social order.” A People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Luyang-class guided-missile destroyer leaves the Torres Strait and enters the Coral Sea on Feb. 18, 2022 (Supplied/Australian Defense Department). The fall of the Solomon Islands to the CCP represents a breakdown in U.S. engagement with the Pacific Island nations. The U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy has been heavily focused on the Quad—a security partnership between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States—dedicated to containing communist China. The Pacific Island Forum, however, is comprised of 18 members, all of whom are considered developing nations apart from Australia and New Zealand. China is courting the developing nations by offering aid, investment, and loans. The United States has recognized that in order to counter the CCP’s influence in the region, Washington must increase its direct involvement with Pacific Island nations. This is particularly true of those nations where the United States believes the CCP wishes to establish PLA military bases. As part of its aid and investment, the CCP builds transportation infrastructure in these countries. U.S. security officials have warned that airstrips and aviation facilities built or expanded across the region by China could be used by the PLA. As part of the U.S. pivot toward the Indo-Pacific region, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Fiji on Feb. 12 and held a conference with 18 leaders from the Pacific Island nations. He was the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Fiji in almost 40 years. At that meeting, Blinken announced that the United States plans to reopen its embassy in the Solomon Islands, which has been closed since 1993. However, this gesture was too little, too late to prevent the Solomon Islands from slipping into China’s orbit. Meanwhile, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)—another U.S. ally—is in danger of falling into the mouth of the dragon. The Battle for Micronesia On March 31, ABC Australia reported that the FSM asked the Solomon Islands to reconsider its security pact with China. Micronesia President David Panuelo said that while the people of the FSM consider themselves to be friends of China, they are allies of the United States. And with the two large countries increasingly at odds with one another, the unilateral decision taken by the Solomon Islands is “unprecedented.” Panuelo expressed his fear that such agreements could fragment the Pacific Island nations into opposing camps acting at the behest of each respective great power. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo, and Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine hold a news conference after their meetings in Kolonia, Federated States of Micronesia, on Aug. 5, 2019. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst) Despite having a population of just over 100,000, the FSM is one of the most important linchpins in the United States in maintaining its hegemony in the Indo-Pacific. The FSM comprises more than 600 islands spread out over more than 1 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean. The FSM is strategically located within striking distance of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Guam, the Marianas, Nauru, the Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Philippines. The relationship between the United States and the FSM is governed by the Compact of Free Association (COFA). Under the agreement, the Unit

China Coopts US Allies in the Pacific: Solomon Islands Now, Micronesia Next

News Analysis

The Chinese regime has co-opted the Solomon Islands and is now set on removing the Federated States of Micronesia from its Compact of Free Association with the United States.

On March 25, the Solomon Islands confirmed that it was drafting a security deal with China. With this single contract, the United States loses a valuable ally in a critical part of the world, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will gain a new overseas base, and Australia has been placed on alert knowing that the enemy is now in its backyard.

The strategic partnership with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) allows Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, to call for police or military assistance from Beijing. It also provides the Solomons with economic development, trade expansion, and civil aviation services.

But citizens are wary of Chinese influence. In 2006, rioters burned down Honiara’s Chinatown, accusing Chinese-linked businesses of having rigged a general election.

In 2019, Honiara switched recognition from Taiwan to China. Last year, unrest broke out again, partially motivated by the people’s resentment at their government’s abandonment of Taiwan. Citizens also expressed outrage at how close their government was becoming to Beijing. In a repeat of 2006, protesters looted and burnt Chinese-owned businesses.

In the end, Australian peacekeepers and military police were called in to restore order. Next time, it could be the PLA. The draft agreement between China and the Solomons explicitly allows the PLA to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects … [and] preserve social order.”

Epoch Times Photo
A People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Luyang-class guided-missile destroyer leaves the Torres Strait and enters the Coral Sea on Feb. 18, 2022 (Supplied/Australian Defense Department).

The fall of the Solomon Islands to the CCP represents a breakdown in U.S. engagement with the Pacific Island nations. The U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy has been heavily focused on the Quad—a security partnership between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States—dedicated to containing communist China. The Pacific Island Forum, however, is comprised of 18 members, all of whom are considered developing nations apart from Australia and New Zealand.

China is courting the developing nations by offering aid, investment, and loans. The United States has recognized that in order to counter the CCP’s influence in the region, Washington must increase its direct involvement with Pacific Island nations. This is particularly true of those nations where the United States believes the CCP wishes to establish PLA military bases.

As part of its aid and investment, the CCP builds transportation infrastructure in these countries. U.S. security officials have warned that airstrips and aviation facilities built or expanded across the region by China could be used by the PLA.

As part of the U.S. pivot toward the Indo-Pacific region, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Fiji on Feb. 12 and held a conference with 18 leaders from the Pacific Island nations. He was the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Fiji in almost 40 years.

At that meeting, Blinken announced that the United States plans to reopen its embassy in the Solomon Islands, which has been closed since 1993. However, this gesture was too little, too late to prevent the Solomon Islands from slipping into China’s orbit.

Meanwhile, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)—another U.S. ally—is in danger of falling into the mouth of the dragon.

The Battle for Micronesia

On March 31, ABC Australia reported that the FSM asked the Solomon Islands to reconsider its security pact with China. Micronesia President David Panuelo said that while the people of the FSM consider themselves to be friends of China, they are allies of the United States.

And with the two large countries increasingly at odds with one another, the unilateral decision taken by the Solomon Islands is “unprecedented.” Panuelo expressed his fear that such agreements could fragment the Pacific Island nations into opposing camps acting at the behest of each respective great power.

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo, and Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine hold a news conference after their meetings in Kolonia, Federated States of Micronesia, on Aug. 5, 2019. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Despite having a population of just over 100,000, the FSM is one of the most important linchpins in the United States in maintaining its hegemony in the Indo-Pacific. The FSM comprises more than 600 islands spread out over more than 1 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean. The FSM is strategically located within striking distance of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Guam, the Marianas, Nauru, the Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Philippines.

The relationship between the United States and the FSM is governed by the Compact of Free Association (COFA). Under the agreement, the United States is responsible for the defense of the FSM, which in return, grants the United States exclusive rights to station military personnel and assets within the territory. The FSM receives economic assistance from America, and FSM citizens can easily join the U.S. military, immigrate to, or work in the United States.

For years, the CCP has been trying to increase its influence in the region through investment and soft power initiatives. In addition to the strategic location, the nations of the Pacific Islands each get one vote in the United Nations. Given their small size and lack of development, Beijing believes it can buy their allegiance and votes cheaply.

Pacific nations which have already switched recognition from Taiwan to China include Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu. The FSM, which already recognizes China rather than Taiwan, is the CCP’s next target for removal from the U.S. sphere.

China has provided the FSM with $100 million in aid since 1990, with the CCP funding government complexes, convention centers, and transportation infrastructure. In 2017, FSM joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as “One Belt, One Road”).

The COFA, the FSM’s contract with Washington, is up for renewal in 2023, which provides the CCP an opportunity to present an alternative arrangement with Beijing. Under the Trump administration, the United States and the FSM began negotiating an extension of the agreement in 2019. But talks were halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An extension of the COFA may not completely shut the CCP out of the region. Chuuk State, an FSM member that lies very close to the U.S. territory of Guam, has been the recipient of much of Beijing’s economic aid. Since 2015, Chuuk State has scheduled independence referendums three times but failed to carry them out.

Most recently, Chuuk was meant to vote on whether or not to leave the Federated States of Micronesia in March; however, no vote has taken place, and no specific date has been set. If Chuuk State were to leave the FSM, it would be free to enter into an agreement with China. This also means the PLA would be able to establish a base.

The loss of the Solomon Islands to the CCP should serve as a wake-up call for the Biden administration. Losing the FSM would be disastrous, and steps need to be taken to prevent this. The United States needs to increase its engagement with all Pacific Island nations and provide significant economic aid; otherwise, the CCP will.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Antonio Graceffo, Ph.D., has spent more than 20 years in Asia. He is a graduate of the Shanghai University of Sport and holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University. Graceffo works as an economics professor and China economic analyst, writing for various international media. Some of his books on China include "Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion" and "A Short Course on the Chinese Economy."