China 'to Set Up Its First Base' in Pacific Under Proposed Security Pact With Solomon Islands
Beijing has been stepping up its diplomatic and naval presence in the Pacific Ocean to counter the US, which is also in the process of renewing its treaty commitments with other Pacific nations as part of the 'Indo-Pacific Strategy'.
A proposed "security cooperation" pact between China and the Solomon Islands envisages Chinese vessels carrying out "logistical replenishments", "stopovers" and "transition" in the Pacific nation, according to a leaked draft of the security agreement.
As per the document that surfaced on Thursday, "relevant forces of China can be used to protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects" on the Solomon Islands.
The proposed pact also states that the government of the Solomon Islands could request that Beijing deploy its armed police, military personnel, armed forces and other law-enforcement personnel in the Solomon Islands to carry out various security-related or humanitarian missions.
Dr Anna Powles, a New Zealand expert in Pacific geopolitics, reckoned that the sealing of the security pact would also mean that logistics and supplies would be available for the People's Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) in the Solomon Islands. She also wondered if that would mean a Chinese "base" in the Solomon Islands, which could be Beijing's first in the Pacific region.
The draft of the security pact surfaces against the backdrop of growing security ties between the Solomon Islands and China. The Pacific nation switched its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China only in 2019, after a meeting between Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.
China is also the Solomon Islands' largest trading partner, and grants duty-free access to 97 percent of exports from the islands.
Last December, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare's invited Chinese riot police to quell the violent demonstrations in the capital Honiara. The protestors were aggrieved by the the government's decision to nix diplomatic support for Taiwan in favour of Beijing.
At the time, Sogavare had claimed that the rioting in the capital city as well as its Chinatown had been "incited from abroad".
Police and military personnel had also been flown in from Australia and New Zealand among other countries to stem the violent demonstrations at the time, as per a government statement.
Australian defence officials at the time had reportedly expressed displeasure over Honiara's offer to accept security assistance from China, claiming that the development could mark the beginning of more security aid from Beijing in the future.
The US and its Western partners, including Australia, have been involved in a stiff geopolitical competition for influence among the Pacific Island nations.
Washington is currently in the process of ramping up US military facilities in the Pacific region to counter Beijing's rising influence, as announced during the Global Posture Review by the Pentagon last year.
America has funding agreements, or the Compacts of Free Association (COFA), with Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau.
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