/Solomon Islands and China Seek to Deepen Security Partnership, Unnerving Neighbors

Solomon Islands and China Seek to Deepen Security Partnership, Unnerving Neighbors

On Thursday, a draft document outlining a was leaked online. The proposed agreement opens the possibility of a greater Chinese military presence on the islands, and , raising concerns among Western governments fearful of China’s expanding influence in the Pacific. Damien Cave from The New York Times described

The agreement, kept secret until now, was shared online Thursday night by opponents of the deal and verified as legitimate by the Australian government. Though it is marked as a draft and cites a need for “social order” as a justification for sending Chinese forces, it has set off alarms throughout the Pacific, where concerns about China’s intentions have been growing for years.

[…] The leaked document states that “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 Solomon Islands to assist in maintaining social order, protecting people’s lives and property.”

It allows China to provide “assistance on other tasks” and requires secrecy, noting, “Neither party shall disclose the cooperation information to a third party.”

[…] For Beijing, the deal could offer its own potential reward. “China may, according to its own needs and with the consent of Solomon Islands, make ship visits to, carry out logistical replenishment in and have stopover and transition in the Solomon Islands,” the draft states.

It also says the Solomons will provide “all necessary facilities.” []

BIG: a leaked draft agreement between China and Solomon Islands puts Beijing on path to achieving at least naval access to SI, but perhaps even a new base down the line. Australia is deeply concerned, urges “Pacific family” to continue sticking together.https://t.co/LOLOLYfAPn

— Derek J. Grossman (@DerekJGrossman) March 24, 2022

With Parliament due to sit in Honiara (and the existing security concerns which led to a RPNGC deployment to Solomons) it will be interesting to see whether the agreement is raised by the Opposition. 2/6 pic.twitter.com/pQ96MFHLi2

— Dr Anna Powles (@AnnaPowles) March 24, 2022

Article 1 refs China’s “own needs”. What are these needs (strategic interests?) and what if they cut across Solomon Islands’ interests or the interests of Solomon Islands’ key partners such as Australia or PNG? 4/6

— Dr Anna Powles (@AnnaPowles) March 24, 2022

Article 5 of the security cooperation agreement refers to “confidentiality” and raises questions about the degree to which the parties will seek to control public information = controlling the political narrative. END 6/6

— Dr Anna Powles (@AnnaPowles) March 24, 2022

While it has yet to be confirmed by the cabinet of the Solomon Islands, the proposed agreement has come under strong criticism from Australian officials. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stated that it was “ and it’s one that is adverse to Australia’s national security interests.” Defense Minister Peter Dutton stated that “we don’t want unsettling influences and we don’t want pressure and coercion that we are seeing from China.” Nick Perry from the Associated Press described :

“If genuine, this agreement would be very concerning,” Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said. “Such agreements will always be the right of any sovereign country to enter into; however, developments within this purported agreement could destabilize the current institutions and arrangements that have long underpinned the Pacific region’s security.”

Questioned about the agreement, China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing and the Solomons “conducted normal law enforcement and security cooperation on the basis of equal treatment and win-win cooperation.”

“This is in line with the international law and international practice, conducive to maintaining social order in the Solomon Islands and promoting peace and stability in the region, and helpful to enhance common interests of China and the Solomon Islands, as well as all countries in the region,” ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters at a daily briefing on Friday. []

The draft security agreement between PRC🇨🇳 & the Solomon Islands🇸🇧 has implications for the security of all the Pacific islands. If a hostile power controls a base on the Solomons they can block shipping traffic from the Pacific into the Indian Ocean, into the Coral Sea, & beyond pic.twitter.com/vGfr1slVT5

— Professor Anne-Marie Brady (@Anne_MarieBrady) March 24, 2022

China has one official base in Djibouti. But, in past 24 hours, it’s clear that Solomon Islands is on the radar. Cambodia, UAE, Guinea, and maybe others too. And unofficially, Beijing already has three bases in the Spratlys and one in the Paracels. Plus a PAP base in Tajikistan.

— Derek J. Grossman (@DerekJGrossman) March 25, 2022

Australia’s Pacific Minister @ZedSeselja pretty forceful on China / Solomon Islands draft security agreement. He says there’s no need for an authoritarian state to make a security contribution in region. He’s discussed it with Pacific counterparts, predicts “significant pushback” pic.twitter.com/vsU5p4789k

— Stephen Dziedzic (@stephendziedzic) March 25, 2022

The Solomon Islands government stated that the proposed agreement would help in “” and that “broadening partnerships is needed to improve the quality of lives of our people and address soft and hard security threats facing the country.” Adding to the momentum, this month China delivered a to the Solomon Islands for use in police training. Paul Karp and Kate Lyons from the Guardian described other :

“Solomon Islands continues to preserve its Security Agreement with Australia as it develops and deepens its relations with all partners including with China.”

However, the government added that it was “working to broaden its security and development cooperation with more countries”.

In a significant signal, the government statement referred at one point to Australia and China as “Solomon Islands two major partners”.

The government said the agreement with China had a “development dimension to it, covering humanitarian needs of the country besides maintaining rule of law” and was necessary given “the country is located in a global hotspot where the impact of climate change is three times the global average.”

“More development cooperation is being sought within and externally to ensure the country is put back on track especially during this difficult time with the impact of COVID-19 on people’s lives, building the economy including damages caused by the recent riots and looting and the population’s wellbeing.” []

Breaking – Solomon Islands government issues a statement on the contentious draft security agreement it’s negotiating with China. No sign of a back-down: “broadening partnerships is needed to improve the quality of lives of our people and address soft and hard security threats” pic.twitter.com/RJU2bcThdl

— Stephen Dziedzic (@stephendziedzic) March 25, 2022

This is one of the strangest stories I’ve written in quite some time. Controversy erupts in Solomon Islands over “replica guns” allegedly shipped into Honiara for a Chinese government run police training program. Story below, thread to follow 1/https://t.co/E0VYgFZVE8

— Stephen Dziedzic (@stephendziedzic) March 17, 2022

Last November, the Solomon Islands became when protesters burned down numerous buildings in the capital’s Chinatown, stormed the parliament building, and ransacked police stations. to help the government improve their “anti-riot capabilities.” The chaos grew from a combination of such as deep political rivalries and uneven distribution of government funds, and such as Chinese and Taiwanese competition for influence and resource extraction. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s 2019 decision to from Taiwan to China acted as a major catalyst to the conflict.

As news of the proposed agreement spread through international media, there was some criticism of the panicked reactions from Western officials, whose paternalistic language obscured with different external actors. One such official was Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, who declared: “. This is our neighbourhood and we are very concerned of any activity that is taking place in the Pacific Islands.” In The Conversation, University of Adelaide professors Joanne Wallis and Czeslaw Tubilewicz cautioned officials and observers to adopt a both foreign and domestic, some of whom may have purposely leaked the document

[The] draft agreement is primarily about Solomon Islands domestic politics – not just geopolitics.

[..] Neither Solomon Islanders (nor other Pacific peoples) are “passive dupes” to Chinese influence or unaware of geopolitical challenges – and opportunities. Some do, however, face resource and constitutional constraints when resisting influence attempts.

[…] The version [of the proposed agreement] circulating on social media may prove to be an early draft. Its leak is likely a bargaining tactic aimed at pursuing multiple agendas with multiple actors – including Australia.

[…] Influence is exercised not only by national governments, but also by a variety of non-state actors, including sub-national and community groups.

And targets of influence-seekers can exercise their agency. See, for example, how various actors in Solomon Islands are leveraging Australia, China and Taiwan’s overtures to the country. 

We must also consider how power affects the political norms and values guiding governing elites and non-state actors, potentially reshaping their identities and interests. []

My plea to Australian security analysts today- before you comment on the *draft* security agreement between Solomon Islands and China ask yourself: (1) am I acknowledging that Solomon Islanders have agency and are not passive dupes? (2) have I spoken to anyone in Solomon Islands?

— Joanne Wallis (@JoanneEWallis) March 24, 2022

Meanwhile, competition for influence in the Pacific-Island region remains fierce. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced in February that the U.S. would open an embassy in the Solomon Islands, a move seen as there. This week the U.S. named an experienced senior diplomat to lead talks with Pacific Island nations about economic aid, yet another effort to . Some commentators have wondered whether the has only encouraged countries in the Global South such as the Solomon Islands to diversify their external partnerships by embracing China. Beyond the U.S., Taiwan and China have lost at sea this past month. A initially claimed Chinese credit, before Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called it “a blatant lie” and the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force confirmed that it had Taiwan to thank for the rescue.

China lied and tried to steal the credit for rescuing 9 Papua New Guinean sailors lost at sea in Solomon Islands waters for 29 days, but the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force confirmed that the 9 PNG sailors were rescued by 🇹🇼 fishing vessel Yi Siang #8. https://t.co/6vqnJoVea0

— Byron Wan (@Byron_Wan) March 23, 2022