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Geopolitical Agenda: The Meaning of China's Signing of a Security Pact with the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean

Güray ALPAR
27 Nisan 2022 12:31
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The spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang Vinbin, announced that he had signed the intergovernmental framework agreement for cooperation in the field of security between China and the Solomon Islands on April 19, 2022, and surprised everyone. In fact, the draft document on this agreement was made public on March 24, 2022. The succession of statements and reactions after this was, in a sense, a result of the increasing geopolitical initiatives towards this region and its surroundings in recent years.

Geopolitical Agenda in the Region

In 2019, the USA published the first "Indo-Pacific Strategy Document", in which it defined China as the biggest enemy (Indo-Pacific-Strategy-Report-June-2019). It was clear that the QUAD organization, which is described as the NATO of Asia and established between Japan, India, Australia, and the USA, was created against China in terms of both its statements and military exercises. Finally, in the introductory word of the “US Indo-Pacific Strategy Document” (Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States, The White House, 11 February 2022), which was renewed under President Biden in February 2022, Biden's speech at the QUAD Leaders’ Summit on September 24, 2021. It should also be remembered that he said, “The future of all of us and the world is being shaped in the Indo-Pacific region”.

Solomon Islands and its location

In the Oceania region, east of Papua New Guinea; With a population of around 700 thousand consisting of 6 large and 20 medium-sized islands, the Solomon Islands have a surface area of ​​28 thousand km2 and this area reaches 1,350 million km2 together with the adjacent waters. As of 2020, the per capita income of the country is around 1843 dollars per year. Interestingly there is almost no Covid 19 case in the country.  The point that should be especially mentioned here is that the distance of the Solomon Islands to the Australian coast is less than 2000 kilometer.

History

Discovered for the first time by the Spanish in 1568, the largest island of the Solomon Islands is Guedalcanal Island, on which today's capital Honiara is located (today it is the largest city of the country with a population of close to 50 thousand), and the name of Guedalcanal in Spain at that time was Seville, Andalusia. It was inspired by the village of “Guadalcanal” in the city of the natives of the island have consistently resisted the colonial powers since then. The Solomon Islands, which were under the control of Germany for a short time, came under British protection from 1893 (Lawrence, 2014: 169).

Solomon Islands in World War II

Solomon Islands was easily captured by the Japanese at the beginning of World War II (Miler, 1948: 3). These islands were located in an important area where the Japanese 3rd Main Defense Line was located, and from this date on, the Japanese began to influence the Australian ports. However, six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US, who had deciphered the Japanese codes, won the Naval Battles (04-07 June 1942) near the strategically important Midway Island (approximately 4100 km from Japan, 4200 km from the USA). Although it seems like it was between the navies until today, the result of the war was determined by the air wars between the planes of both sides and after this war, the air dominance of the Japanese in the Pacific ended) the Solomon Islands, which are on the next line, were the scene of fierce battles between Japan and the USA, and the US navy came over Guadalcanal. Concentrating on (Frank, 1992), they succeeded in capturing the Guadalcanal positions of the Japanese (07 August 1942 - 09 February 1943) with the help of artillery fire from the ships, the guidance of the locals and the support of the air force (Miler, 1948: 306).

Strategically, having an airbase on the Island of Guadalcanal was crucial to controlling the maritime lines of communication between the United States and Australia. In this war, both sides lost ships. However, while the Japanese lost more than 20,000 soldiers, American losses were more than 10 times lower. But the real irreplaceable loss for the Japanese was the loss of their navy pilots. In a way, the wars fought here were a turning point in the Pacific struggle, and thus American forces had the opportunity to influence the Japanese Mainland with the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa on the next line.

Subsequent developments in the Solomon Islands

The British Protectorate on these islands ended in 1975, and the following year, the islands gained the right to govern themselves and became an independent country in 1978. Of the 120 existing language groups in the country, 70 are actively used (Rennellese sign language and languages ​​such as Oroha, Tanema, Tanibili, Riirio, Vano and Lavono are near extinction) and the common language (about 85%) is Malanesian. The official language, English, is known by very few people (about 2%). The schooling rate is 60%.

The world's least visited country, the Solomon Islands are divided into 10 separate administrative regions with a central city in each region.

The Solomon Islands are a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and are represented by a governor-general by the Queen.

The country was the scene of ethnic conflicts in 1999 and a coup in 2000. Civil unrest was ended with forces from Australia and New Zealand and an agreement was reached. However, confusion continued in the following years, and the Australian-led aid mission ended its activities in 2017.

Reactions to the deal

The signing of a security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands, which includes military cooperation, is considered as China's effort to gain strategic ground in the region, in retaliation for the AUKUS agreement between the US, Australia and the UK, which includes the development and production of nuclear submarine technology.

After the new security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands was leaked to the public by the Solomon Islands opposition on March 24, 2022, Australia, especially the USA and New Zealand acted not to sign this agreement. According to them, the deal harms the security environment in the region. Even the President of Micronesia, Panuelo, objected to this agreement on the grounds that "the region may be a conflict area of ​​great powers in the future" and sent a letter to the prime minister of the Solomon Islands.

US and Chinese power struggle in the South China Sea

In a sense, the document marks another phase of the conflict between the US and China in the Indo-Pacific.

The document also includes that Chinese warship can anchor at the ports of the Solomon Islands, wait for a short time, and make their logistics supplies from these ports. In addition, there are issues that military personnel, armored police and military force can be requested from China to maintain social order and property in the Solomon Islands.

China is also committed to increasing the capacity of the Solomon Islands for humanitarian aid and natural disasters.

Although ostensibly for peaceful purposes, commentators speculate that this agreement could pave the way for the Chinese administration to use military force to protect its citizens and the projects it carries out and provide critical base support to China in the Pacific region.

Countries that conveyed their concerns about the agreement to both the Beijing administration and the Solomon Islands asked the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Sogavare, not to sign the agreement. Countries that oppose the agreement claim that with the agreement, China's warships will use the ports of the Solomon Islands, establish bases for its navy on the islands and provide logistic support from there.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sogovare says that the security agreement does not give China or any other state the right to establish a base in the Solomon Islands and promises that it will not harm regional security and disrupt regional peace and cooperation.

According to Sogovare, the agreement is not against any particular country or alliance but is more geared towards the internal security situation of the Solomon Islands itself and the protection of infrastructure damaged by the protests in November last year.

The reaction of the opposition in the Solomon Islands

Kenilorea, Chairman of the Solomon Islands Parliamentary and Foreign Relations Committee, stated that a certain part of the country's people is already strongly against the Chinese and that despite intense objections from within the country and abroad, the agreement with China will further increase the tension in the country, emphasizing that the agreement should be transparent and open to the public.

Australia's response

After the agreement, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced that although they respect the right of the Solomon Islands to take decisions for their own security, they were deeply disappointed with the security cooperation agreement signed between China and the Solomon Islands, and that this opaque agreement signed with the Beijing administration would destabilize the region. The main opposition officials in the country, on the other hand, stated that the agreement signed with China by the Solomon Islands, which is about 2 thousand km from Australia, made the region less secure, and they criticized Prime Minister Morrison's Pacific policies. They described it as the worst Pacific policy since World War II. According to the opposition, in the strategic conditions facing Australia, the region is now less secure, making it the most risky and uncertain environment after the general war.

The Australian Prime Minister, on the other hand, does not accept the accusations that he is late even though he knows that a security agreement will be signed, and argues that the diplomacy followed is correct. According to him, it is quite wrong to look at the Pacific as an extension of Australia, as it has been until now, and this sensitivity needs to be understood. In other words, it is not appropriate to act imperatively on the Solomon Islands on the subject.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in another speech said China's construction of a military base in the Solomon Islands would be a "red line" for his country.

US response

Making a statement on the subject during a visit to Australia before the agreement was signed and claiming that the agreement reflects China's desire to expand its population in the region, the Commander of the US Marine Corps, General Berker, expressed his concerns about how the agreement came to be and what the consequences would be for the countries, and addressed the Solomon Islands administration. He called out and said, “You may regret it in the future”.

"The broad nature of the signed Security Agreement paves the way for the deployment of Chinese military police forces to the Solomon Islands," US State Department spokesman Price said in a statement.

According to him, the signing of this agreement will increase instability in the Solomon Islands and set a precedent for other examples in the Pacific region.

On the other hand, Daniel Kritenbrink, the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, after speaking Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands Manasseh Sogavare, said the US would not hesitate to take a military step if a possible military base was established in China's Solomon Islands.

Japan Response

Japan response was also strong. Japan Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa said that they conveyed their concerns about the security agreement signed between Beijing and Honiara to the Solomon Islands. Accordingly, Uesugi Kentaro, one of the Deputy Ministers of Foreign Affairs sent to the Island, was received by the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands Manasseh Sogavare. Noting that "the security agreement may affect the security of the entire Pacific region," Uesugi stated that they will closely monitor the potential effects of the agreement.

Reactions against the Chinese in the Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands administration cut its relations with the Taiwan Government on September 16, 2019 and recognized the government of the People's Republic of China as the representative of China and decided to establish official relations with the People's Republic of China. However, the government's rapprochement with China did not fail to cause mass protests in the country.

The demonstrators who took to the streets in the capital of the Solomon Islands in November 2021 (also demonstrators from the densely populated island of Malaita) stormed the parliament building, reacting to the government's initiation of diplomatic relations with the Chinese administration, the failure to make the economic aid and investments promised by China, and the corruption with the incoming funds, He attempted to overthrow the Prime Minister and set Chinese businesses on fire. A curfew was imposed in the country against the demonstrators who clashed with the police, and upon the escalation of the events, police force was requested from Australia in accordance with the security agreement between the two countries.

The attitude of the Chinese government

"The foreign ministers of China and the Solomon Islands have officially signed the security cooperation framework agreement," Wenbin, spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry, said without mentioning when and where the signing took place.

The Chinese administration claims that this security framework agreement, as an open and transparent agreement signed between two independent equal states, does not target any third party, and that the agreement is parallel and compatible with existing bilateral and multilateral security cooperation mechanisms.

According to the Chinese administration, the Western powers are deliberately exaggerating the agreement and escalating the tension, and the intervention and blocking efforts of the island countries to China's cooperation are doomed to fail.

As a result, with this agreement that China signed with the Solomon Islands and which did not attract the attention of many, it seems that the Indo-Pacific struggle has entered a new phase and the countries in the region are now feeling the danger very close. In this sense, it is necessary to follow the developments from the very beginning. While the Indo-Pacific Strategy Papers are being published one after another, the balances are re-established in the region, and it gives signs that the power struggles in and around this region will increase.

References:

Frank, B. Richard. (1992). Guadalcanal, Penguin Books.

Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States, Washington, DC: The White House, 11 February 2022.

Indo-Pacific- Strategy-Report-June-2019.

Lawrence, David Russell. (1914). The Naturalist and His Beautiful Islands: Charles Morris Woodford in the Western Pacific, ANU Press: Canberra, Australia.

Miller, Jr. John. (1948). Base. Army in World War II, The War in The Pacific, Guadalcanal: The first Offensive: Washington.