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The China-Solomon Islands pact and the control of the South Pacific Ocean

This week, tensions reached new levels around a security pact between China and the Solomon Islands, which is located just 1600 km from the northeast coast of Australia. Its president, Manasseh Sogavare, stated that representatives of the Australian government, lead by the conservative Scott Morrison, threatened to "invade" the islands if it was not stopped. The pact would allow Beijing to send ground troops to help local authorities performing ‘security tasks’ and the ships of the Navy to use any of the islands to make unlimited stops there.

The new military alliance AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom and United States) has said that it will not tolerate that China shall establish a military base that would be so close to the Australian coast. Amid the growing tensions, the United States will now open again its Embassy on the Solomon Islands after it shut down the previous one in 1993. Although extremely poor, this territory has become the new scene of the rivalry between China and the US for the world hegemony because of its wide strategic location close to Australia.

The Solomon Islands were acquired by Great Britain in 1899 after an agreement with Germany. During the Second World War, there were important battles between the Japanese Empire and the Allies. In the 1950s, Great Britain proposed Australia to incorporate the Solomon Islands into its territory, but the offer was rejected because of the high financial debts and many ethnic problems in the archipelago.

Independence finally arrived in 1978, and since then, violent clashes, rampant corruption and political instabilty have been constant. The situation turned dramatic in 2003 when a peace mission of two thousand soldiers, composed mainly by Australia and New Zealand, was sent to the Solomon Islands, which does not have its own army but has 600 thousand inhabitants, with the objective of restoring security because the local police force was overwhelmed by the social revolts that were unfolding against the bad governments.

They stayed in the islands for 14 years and the current president, Sogavare, built his political career by trying to expel this foreign contingent. In 2019, he broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan favoring Beijing's instead as the sole authority. In the capital, Honiara, the Chinese population has been frequently a target of violent attacks on their property by the local population. This was sharpened in November 2021 when Sogavare announced the security pact with China that could allow the establishment of a permanent military base in the country. Additionally, China has been taking over the control of energy and construction infrastructure in the country in exchange for enormous financial loans, which is known as the 'debt trap'.

China has already similar security pacts with other Oceanic countries as Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga. Even more, the Chinese army has been building artificial islands to establish military bases on atolls and rocks in areas of the South China Sea that other countries in the region (Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam mainly) dispute as their own. This aggressive expansionist territorial policy is carried out also in the East China Sea regarding islands that Japan and South Korea also claim as their own. Currently, China is by far the first commercial partner of the Solomon Islands representing 64% of its exports compared with 1% that goes to Australia; and 35% of imports come from China against 13% from Australia. This is the trend for the other islands of Oceania as well.

In addition to that, the Oceanic islands claim that Australia's policy to slow down Climate Change has been very week and this would affect their survival possibilities in the medium term as sea levels may rise. On the other part, China has declared that its net carbon emissions shall be zero before 2060, thus weaving a policy of understanding with all these countries that have been historically under the leadership of Australia.

Using the case of Ukraine as a reference, the Chinese government has accused the United States of hypocrisy regarding the sovereign right of each country to define its own foreign security policy. In particular, the possibility of establishing military bases near borders of rival countries, such as NATO had planned to do with Russia. Thus, the Solomon Islands could be one of the many geopolitical fights that are expected to come in the near future regarding China's rise as a world superpower.

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