US, Australia Alarmed Over China-Solomon Islands Security Deal

by Uriel Araujo, published on InfoBRICS, April 22, 2022

A new security agreement has been signed between China and the Solomon Islands: it could allow Beijing to send military and police personnel, and open the door to a Chinese naval base in the South Pacific the US, Australia and New Zealand claim. The Solomon Islands, who take their name from the Solomon Islands archipelago in Oceania, are a small country which has no military forces of its own – it relies only on its police force for internal security as the islands have been facing serious problems pertaining to mass rioting and ethnic violence. The new agreement, however, has caused an uproar in the Anglo-Saxon world, especially in Australia and the US despite the Islands government has denied that China will build any base in the country.

In February, Biden announced his plan to open an American embassy in Honiara (capital city of the islands) to enhance cooperation. Washington had such an embassy before, but it was closed in 1993.  This new development is part of an ongoing process. In 2019, the islands switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the two countries began the framework agreement on March 30. The Solomon Islands need help to maintain internal law and order. Honiara joined Beiing’s Belt and Road initiative in 2019, and China has invested in the country’s infrastructure. Thus, Beijing has an interest in helping the archipelago increase its security. Therefore, the agreement benefits both sides. This is not how Washington sees it, though.

On April 15, the Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told a press conference that the US Defense Department is concerned that the security deal could “increase destabilization within the Solomon Islands and could set a disturbing precedent for the wider Pacific Island region.” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne stated Australia is concerned with the “lack of transparency” regarding the agreement and with its potential to “undermine stability” in the region.

On April 19, the White House announced it was sending a delegation with two of their top officials to Honiara: Daniel Kritenbrink (assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs) and Kurt Campbell (National Security Council Indo-Pacific coordinator).

The reactions to this new development in Anglo-Saxon media and establishment show an unprecedented level of alarmism. For instance, a piece named “Bomb Honiara” was published in the Australian Macrobusiness website on April 20. It argues Australia must either “force the deal to be retracted” or “force the Sogavare Government out of power” (Manasseh Sogavare is the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands).

It further argues “whatever it takes” should be done to “destabilise the islands politically or even bombing them”. It ends ominously: “A smoking crater to Australia’s north is not what anybody wants but it’s transparently preferable to a weaponised Chinese satrap that all but ends Australian freedom.” One could just assume this was hyperbocally written with tongue in cheek piece, but it is not April’s Fool and the author, David Lewellyn-Smith, is the co-founder of The Diplomat magazine. It is almost unbelievable such language can be employed in Australian media today, but anti-Chinese alarmism has been part of the Australian political climate for quite a long time.

While the Canberra establishment is so vocal about possible Chinese influence, its foreign and domestic policy has been to a large extent controlled by the US for decades. Australian former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (1972-75) was an exception: he moved Canberra towards the Non-Aligned Movement and pursued an independent foreign policy. On November 11, the very day Whitlam was to give a talk to parliament about secret CIA presence in his country, he was summoned by the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, the representative of Queen Elizabeth II, and was “dismissed” from his office as Prime Minister. This marked a constitutional crisis and is widely described as a Cold War Anglo-American coup – declassified US State Department cables show how Washington took part in this political maneuver.

However, the fact is that to this day some analysts describe a “coup culture” in Australia. For example, the 2010 Labour Party leadership “spill” has also been described as a kind of internal coup. A 2015 BBC piece goes so far as to describe Australia as the “coup capital of the democratic world”, but what this piece does not elaborate on is the fact that the American influence on the country over the years has a lot to do with this state of affairs.

In a 2020 Centre for Independent Studies talk, after saying one must always sacrifice prosperity for security, US diplomat and geoestrategist John Mearsheimer told an Australian audience that, from an American perspective, if Australia goes with China, “you [Australia] are our enemy” because “you are then deciding to become an enemy of the US (…)  and if you are trading extensively with China, and you are friendly with China… you are  undermining the US in this security competition. You are feeding the beast, from our perspective, and that is not going to make us happy, and when we are not happy you do not want to underestimate how nasty we can be – just ask Fidel Castro!” His overly sincere remarks were followed by nervous laughter from the audience. Two years later, Mearsheimer’s words still sum up quite well the general American attitude: it does not tolerate competitors. If his words are to be taken seriously, they would indicate the threat to Australia actually comes from Washington – not Beijing.

In fact, at this very moment, the US is actually building a major precision-strike missile network along the so-called first island chain – a chain of islands near the Chinese coast. This is part of a $27.4 billion operation. Moreover, the US Indo-Pacific Command requested double spending in fiscal 2022 to confront China. In addition, the US has been trying to advance the QUAD as a kind of “new NATO to “counter China”. One can see today how such American “countering” and “encircling” strategies have impacted Ukraine (targeting Russia), and it would seem it has not worked so well for global peace and prosperity.

The Solomon Islands are basically diversifying their security and diplomatic partners. The way this is being received in the West indicates the current “cold war” climate. By reacting with open antagonism and “nastiness” to each and every Chinese regional move, Washington itself threatens Pacific stability.

*Featured Image: Xi Jinping and Manasseh Sogavare.

Uriel Araujo is a researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts.

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