China’s Security Deal in Pacific Should Be Met With Strong Pushback From US, Allies: Experts

The Chinese Communist Party managed to secure a controversial security deal with the Solomon Islands by exploiting the domestic politics in the pacific island nation, according to experts, who added that the United States and Indo-Pacific allies now need to work doubly hard to push back against Beijing’s expanding influence in the region.The deal, signed earlier this week, would allow the Chinese Communist Party (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. It has stoked fears from the United States and allies that the deal would be used by Beijing to establish a military footprint in the region, destabilizing the Indo-Pacific. The Solomon Islands occupies a strategic position in the Pacific and is less than 1,200 miles from Australia. A senior-level U.S. delegation met the Solomon Islands’ leader on April 22 and warned that Washington would have “significant concerns and respond accordingly” to any steps to establish a permanent Chinese military presence in the Pacific island nation. US National Security Council’s Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell (C) leaves after a meeting with the Solomon Islands government in Honiara on April 22, 2022. (MAVIS PODOKOLO/AFP via Getty Images) A White House statement said Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare reiterated to the visiting delegation led by White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell that there would be no military base, no long-term presence, and no power projection capability under a security deal signed with China. The White House gave no indication of what the U.S. response would be to such an eventuality, but its blunt tone indicated the level of U.S. concern that led to the dispatch of Campbell’s mission to the remote island nation this week. “If steps are taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power-projection capabilities, or a military installation, the delegation noted that the United States would then have significant concerns and respond accordingly,” it said. “The United States emphasized that it will follow developments closely in consultation with regional partners.” A Chinese military base in the South Pacific would significantly shift the balance of power in the region, according to Satoru Nagao, a non-resident fellow at the  Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank. “If the Chinese navy set up a base in the South Pacific, it will be more difficult to track Chinese naval ships in the Pacific. China can deploy naval ships anytime near Hawaii or other regions between the U.S. and Australia easily and attack Alaska and US western coasts,” said Tokyo-based Nagao. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare speaks at a press conference inside the Parliament House in Honiara, Solomons Islands on April 24, 2019. (Robert Taupongi/AFP via Getty Images) Aligned Interests The security deal played into the interests of both Sogavare and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, according to Cleo Pascal, a non-resident senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracy. The pact, she said, was actually one between the two leaders and not between the two nations. It is “designed to secure the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] position in the country and Sogavare’s hold on power,” she said, adding that the deal is widely unpopular in the island nation of 700,000 people. “If free and fair elections are held in 2023, as scheduled, [Sogavare] is likely to lose. If he loses, a new government is likely to cancel the deal, and maybe even switch back to Taiwan,” Pascal said. “That would be a huge blow to Xi’s prestige in China, opening him up to political attacks at home. And it makes investigations of Sogavare’s activities more likely,” she added. The Solomons switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019. The switch was one of the reasons behind unrest on the island in November that resulted in the arson and looting in its capital Honiara. The domestic politics in the Solomon Islands and China means both Sogavare and Xi need their security partnership to sustain and deepen, Pascal said, adding “even if it means provoking a new civil war to justify postponing elections and putting Chinese ‘peacekeepers’ on the ground.” Brent Sadler, a senior fellow at Washington-based Heritage Foundation, told The Epoch Times that the worst-case scenario for the islands nation would be if  Sogavare uses the security deal to invite Chinese forces to suppress political disputes with his rivals. “Once that happens it will be very difficult to roll back any Chinese military presence there,” said Sadler. Given the domestic context, Pascal urged Campbell to use his visit to build ties with opposition voices in the country. “If they only meet with corrupt, pro-PRC Sogavare, they are just reinforcing his prestige in the country,” sai

China’s Security Deal in Pacific Should Be Met With Strong Pushback From US, Allies: Experts

The Chinese Communist Party managed to secure a controversial security deal with the Solomon Islands by exploiting the domestic politics in the pacific island nation, according to experts, who added that the United States and Indo-Pacific allies now need to work doubly hard to push back against Beijing’s expanding influence in the region.

The deal, signed earlier this week, would allow the Chinese Communist Party (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.

It has stoked fears from the United States and allies that the deal would be used by Beijing to establish a military footprint in the region, destabilizing the Indo-Pacific. The Solomon Islands occupies a strategic position in the Pacific and is less than 1,200 miles from Australia.

A senior-level U.S. delegation met the Solomon Islands’ leader on April 22 and warned that Washington would have “significant concerns and respond accordingly” to any steps to establish a permanent Chinese military presence in the Pacific island nation.

Epoch Times Photo
US National Security Council’s Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell (C) leaves after a meeting with the Solomon Islands government in Honiara on April 22, 2022. (MAVIS PODOKOLO/AFP via Getty Images)

A White House statement said Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare reiterated to the visiting delegation led by White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell that there would be no military base, no long-term presence, and no power projection capability under a security deal signed with China.

The White House gave no indication of what the U.S. response would be to such an eventuality, but its blunt tone indicated the level of U.S. concern that led to the dispatch of Campbell’s mission to the remote island nation this week.

“If steps are taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power-projection capabilities, or a military installation, the delegation noted that the United States would then have significant concerns and respond accordingly,” it said.

“The United States emphasized that it will follow developments closely in consultation with regional partners.”

A Chinese military base in the South Pacific would significantly shift the balance of power in the region, according to Satoru Nagao, a non-resident fellow at the  Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

“If the Chinese navy set up a base in the South Pacific, it will be more difficult to track Chinese naval ships in the Pacific. China can deploy naval ships anytime near Hawaii or other regions between the U.S. and Australia easily and attack Alaska and US western coasts,” said Tokyo-based Nagao.

Epoch Times Photo
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare speaks at a press conference inside the Parliament House in Honiara, Solomons Islands on April 24, 2019. (Robert Taupongi/AFP via Getty Images)

Aligned Interests

The security deal played into the interests of both Sogavare and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, according to Cleo Pascal, a non-resident senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracy. The pact, she said, was actually one between the two leaders and not between the two nations.

It is “designed to secure the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] position in the country and Sogavare’s hold on power,” she said, adding that the deal is widely unpopular in the island nation of 700,000 people.

“If free and fair elections are held in 2023, as scheduled, [Sogavare] is likely to lose. If he loses, a new government is likely to cancel the deal, and maybe even switch back to Taiwan,” Pascal said.

“That would be a huge blow to Xi’s prestige in China, opening him up to political attacks at home. And it makes investigations of Sogavare’s activities more likely,” she added.

The Solomons switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019. The switch was one of the reasons behind unrest on the island in November that resulted in the arson and looting in its capital Honiara.

The domestic politics in the Solomon Islands and China means both Sogavare and Xi need their security partnership to sustain and deepen, Pascal said, adding “even if it means provoking a new civil war to justify postponing elections and putting Chinese ‘peacekeepers’ on the ground.”

Brent Sadler, a senior fellow at Washington-based Heritage Foundation, told The Epoch Times that the worst-case scenario for the islands nation would be if  Sogavare uses the security deal to invite Chinese forces to suppress political disputes with his rivals.

“Once that happens it will be very difficult to roll back any Chinese military presence there,” said Sadler.

Given the domestic context, Pascal urged Campbell to use his visit to build ties with opposition voices in the country.

“If they only meet with corrupt, pro-PRC Sogavare, they are just reinforcing his prestige in the country,” said Pascal, adding that Campbell’s delegation should instead meet with the leader of the opposition, some of the provincial premiers, local chiefs, religious leaders, and women’s groups who have come out against the deal.

If they do that “they are showing they truly want to work with the vast majority of the people of Solomons to build democracy, transparency, accountability, and rule of law. That is the way forward.”

Epoch Times Photo
US National Security Council’s Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell (L) leaves after a meeting with the Solomon Islands opposition leader Mathew Wale (R) in Honiara on April 22, 2022. (MAVIS PODOKOLO/AFP via Getty Images)

Australia-US Coordination

Experts have long argued that the United States outsourced its regional policymaking to Australia, but with this development, it can no longer afford to take a back seat. Some are now calling for an independent U.S. policy for the Pacific Islands as well as greater coordination between countries of the informal Quadrilateral Security Dialogue grouping (Quad)—Australia, India, United States, and Japan—to counter China’s influence in the region.

Washington has had nearly a zero “diplomatic presence” in the Solomon Islands, Sadler said, adding that it has only lately started to address it by announcing in February that it would be re-opening its embassy in the country.

While Australia could be relied upon to deal with matters concerning Pacific Island countries, the Biden administration should be more proactive and make public statements on matters early, and in concert with Australia, Sadler noted, highlighting that only Washington “can argue for U.S. interests even where allies are concerned.”

“The U.S. needs to be more attuned to the South and Central Pacific than it has been,” he added.

Pascal alleged that while the Australian government in Canberra has been able to deal with the Chinese regime’s coercion domestically, it hasn’t encouraged the same in Pacific Island nations.

“I’ve heard from multiple sources that more direct and effective engagement by countries such as the U.S. was discouraged by Canberra’s Pacific experts as it might ‘provoke’ China,” she said.

“This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the CCP operates. The CCP expands until it is stopped. And, even then, it doesn’t stop, it just looks for other ways to advance.”

Nagao of the Hudson Institute said greater coordination between the Quad countries is needed in the region to counter the Chinese regime. He noted that Beijing has invested heavily into the South Pacific in the past few decades and that’s why the CCP is succeeding.

“But the recent disaster in Tonga, US-Australia-Japan coordinated to support Tonga well. If the US-Australia-Japan and India cooperate well, the Quad can push back China’s influence,” said Nagao, referring to the massive volcano eruption and tsunami that hit Tonga in January.

The expert added that the Quad’s work in the Pacific Islands has just started and needs to be sustained for long-term impact.

Reuters contributed to this report. 


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Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.