- A Chinese state company has reportedly bagged the multi-million dollar contract to redevelop an international port in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.
- China is continuing its expansionist policies in the Greater Pacific region.
- The move has since sparked concerns from the United States and Australia which perceive it as China’s way to extend its influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
- The island nation has been slowly gravitating towards China in the last couple of years. It struck a security pact with China earlier which could potentially allow China to deploy its military and dock vessels in the islands.
- The country severed its diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 2019 and established a formal relationship with China. Before breaking the relations, the Solomon Islands was Taiwan’s most populous ally in terms of countries that gave it full recognition.
What is the Solomon Island China Pact?
- The document titled ‘Framework Agreement between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of Solomon Islands on Security Cooperation’ was leaked through social media.
- The document explicitly enables Beijing to send its “police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces” to the islands on the latter government’s request, or if the former sees that the safety of its projects and personnel in the islands are at risk.
- The document also provides for China’s naval vessels to utilise the islands for logistics support.
- There have been speculations in the wake of this revelation that China might be building its next overseas naval base in Solomon Islands after Djibouti, which was also incidentally referred to as a logistics support base.
Reasons for the Solomon Islands’ increasing proximity to China
- Solomon Islands’ inability to manage domestic ethnic conflicts led to close security relations with Australia, which is the traditional first responder to any crisis in the South Pacific.
- The Solomon Islands had cultivated strong ties with Taiwan, which ended with the emergence of the current government in Honiara.
- China has been infamous for its debt-trap diplomacy. The country has trapped numerous African as well as Asian countries by providing capital investment at exorbitant interest rates.
- China snaffling up the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka was one of the prime examples of its tactic working magnificently.
- Beijing offered half a billion U.S. dollars in financial aid, roughly five times what Taiwan spent on the islands in the past two decades.
Why is China interested in the Solomon Islands?
- The small Pacific island states act as potential vote banks for mobilising support for the great powers in international fora like the United Nations.
- These states have disproportionately large maritime Exclusive Economic Zones when compared to their small sizes, the reason why these ‘small island states’ are also seen as ‘big ocean states’.
- Solomon Islands, in particular, have significant reserves of timber and mineral resources, along with fisheries.
- The islands are strategically located for China to insert itself between America’s military bases in the Pacific islands and Australia.
- This is especially significant in the current scenario, given the emergence of the AUKUS (Australia, the U.K. and the U.S.) which seeks to elevate Australia’s strategic capabilities vis-à-vis China through Anglo-American cooperation.
- The Solomon Islands, a country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean.
- Solomon Islands lie northeast of Australia and southwest of Hawaii.
- They comprise 992 islands of which 147 are inhabited.
- They gained independence from Britain on July 7, 1978.
- Honiara, on the north coast of Guadalcanal Island, is Solomon Islands’ capital and largest city.
- Today, between 70 to 80 percent of the population live a subsistence form of life in their small villages, settlements and islands away from the main urban centres.
- Religion: About 95% of The Population are Christians.
- Flora and Fauna: The main Islands of Solomons are volcanic in origin covered with fast-flowing rivers and streams.
- They are home to many endemic flora and fauna species, which includes the common cardinal lorry.