As soon as leaked documents showed that the Solomon Islands was drafting a security pack with Communist China three weeks ago, Australia and its allies were under a shockwave. Diplomats from Canberra and Washington immediately responded with trips to the island to talk about the pack. At the same time, officials back home repeatedly said that the deal was a matter of grave concern.

To the Australians’ disappointment, Beijing officially announced on April 19 that China and the Solomons had signed the framework pact. So why do small islands like the Solomons create a big fuss between leading Western nations, and what role does it play under Beijing’s plan?

The Solomon Islands is central to regional strategy

The Solomon Islands is a small island nation that lies around 1,240 miles northeast of Australia. In history, the islands’ strategic significance was proven in World War II, especially during the 1942-43 Battle of Guadalcanal. It is a region with vital shipping lanes and fishing areas in modern days. More importantly, Australia Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the island was Australia’s backyard.

In addition, Guam, a critical U.S. military base in East Asia, is not far from the Solomon Islands.

A day before the official announcement of the agreement, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “The broad nature of the security agreement leaves open the door for the deployment of P.R.C. (People’s Republic of China) military forces to the Solomon Islands.”

With the agreement allowing Beijing to send security forces to the Solomon Islands, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern considered the movement “militarization of the Pacific.” In other words, Beijing is trying to expand its military presence in the Pacific region.

On China’s side, a Chinese military presence there would bring its People’s Liberation Army forces closer to U.S. territories than ever before. It is just less than a five-hour flight from Australia’s eastern coast. According to the New York Times, the Solomons will offer China a base of operations halfway between the U.S. and Australia with this security pact. This could be used to disrupt the shipping trade in the South Pacific.

Beijing’s calculated moves to reinforce its growing presence in the Pacific region

According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Communist China plans to establish a long-term presence in the Southwest Pacific.

Before 2019, the regime built artificial islands and a system to deny any adversary’s freedom of movement on the battlefield or a so-called anti-access and area denial system. The institute pointed out that “China has given itself the capability to essentially close the sea routes across this important area in situations short of war.”

In a more aggressive bid, a Chinese company even attempted to lease the entire island of Tulagi for 75 years. Such acquisition would have a major impact on the shipping in the area. In this regard, the ASPI analyzed that the strategic importance of the South Pacific islands would be enhanced if China could close all of these routes. The prediction was based on the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ ChinaPower project map.

As a result, the closure would limit the United States’ capacity to maneuver freely and potentially isolate Australia from our more reluctant partner.

Flexing muscle beyond the mainland to serve the state’s interests

Diplomatic-wise, Beijing successfully persuaded the Sogavare government to drop its 36-year diplomatic relationship with Taiwan in 2019. Shortly after, the government quickly moved on with economic deals with China under the Belt and Road Initiative. The deals granted Chinese companies the right to build roads and bridges and reopen one of the country’s gold mines.

Tarcisius Kabutaulaka, an associate professor at the University of Hawaii, told the Australian A.B.C. News, “One [reason] is to provide security for its citizens and its investments, and the second is to enforce its laws outside of the state of China.”

Adding to this point, Jade Guan, a lecturer in strategic studies at Deakin University and a China scholar, said China’s overseas expansion would reinforce its Taiwan position.

She said, “Even though the Solomon Islands is a very small country, it is a sovereign state. It has the vote in the U.N. system.”

Under China’s influence, two nations in the Pacific regions have switched ties away from Taiwan. The regime encourages these countries to recognize its “One-China policy.” There are only four Taiwan supporters left in the region: the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu, and Palau.

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