Speed up measures to keep islands from becoming military bases

It could serve as a foothold for China to expand its military influence in the South Pacific. The United States, Australia and Japan should step up their engagement to maintain regional peace and stability.

China and the Solomon Islands have concluded a security agreement. According to a supposed draft of the document, reportedly leaked online, China would be allowed to send troops and security forces to the South Pacific island nation, and Chinese naval vessels would be allowed to call at its ports.

There is fear that, if the Chinese military stations troops there under the agreement, stability and freedom of navigation in the South Pacific could be threatened. The United States, Australia, Japan and New Zealand issued a statement that the security framework between China and the Solomon Islands poses “serious risks to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Surrounding countries are seriously concerned about the agreement because its contents have not been disclosed.

The Solomon Islands said the agreement was aimed at maintaining domestic security, including the suppression of insurgencies, stating that the agreement does not allow Chinese troops to be stationed or build facilities there.

China also emphasized its contribution to the Solomon Islands’ ability to protect its security, saying that China-Solomon security cooperation “does not target any third country.” If this is the case, China should not keep the contents of the agreement secret and should fulfill its accountability as a major power.

Although the Solomon Islands has traditionally friendly relations with Australia, it severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan and established such ties with China in 2019, and since then has been leaning more toward China under the influence of Beijing’s economic cooperation.

According to an Australian research entity, China’s assistance to the island nations of the South Pacific over the past 10 years has totaled about ¥160 billion, which is the second-largest figure in the region after that provided by Australia.

Including amounts planned for the future, China’s assistance reaches about ¥770 billion, indicating that China alone accounts for one-third of total assistance to the region.

But China’s support and investment have always been accompanied by fears that infrastructure could be diverted to military use.

In 2019, a plan came to light under which a Chinese company concluded a contract in the Solomon Islands for a decades-long lease of an island suitable for a naval port. But under pressure from the United States and Australia, the contract was withdrawn. In Kiribati and Vanuatu, there are rumors of plans to build, with Chinese assistance, runways and ports that could be used for military purposes.

In Asia and Africa, with the expansion of China’s influence, an increasing number of authoritarian nations that disregard human rights have introduced “Chinese-style” governing methods. There are concerns that this trend could spread to the South Pacific.

The United States has sent high-ranking officials and has begun to try to regain ground in the South Pacific region. There is a need for the United States to strengthen cooperation with countries in the region and enhance its presence there. Japan also needs to contribute to disaster prevention and environmental protection measures hoped for by the island nations and make efforts to improve their trust in Japan.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 29, 2022)