June 29, 2022

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Australia should blame itself for Solomon Islands’ shift to China

2 min read

The anxiety caused by China’s planned security deal with the Solomon Islands shows that Australia, New Zealand, the US and Japan fear losing their influence in the Pacific — but are struggling to do anything about it.

When the draft agreement — whereby Beijing could send police to quell local unrest and Chinese warships could stop in local ports for replenishment and repairs — was leaked last month, the powers that have traditionally dominated the region voiced grave concern.

The security worries are understandable. If the Chinese navy gained a foothold in the Solomon Islands, it could block maritime access lanes to Australia — both for trade and for the Australian military, an ally the US would rely on in the event of conflict with China in the region. But the reaction also highlights that Canberra and its allies’ sole focus on geopolitics has undermined their regional influence.

“Australia and the US tend to see the world through their own interests: what is good for us is good for the Pacific Islands, so you should do the things we do,” said Tarcisius Kabutaulaka, an associate professor at the University of Hawaii and a Solomon Islander. “In this case, they are saying to the Solomon Islands, you can’t have this kind of relationship with China. The irony is that we can and we do,” he added, referring to failed attempts by western powers to stop the islands’ move in 2019 to switch diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China.

Manasseh Sogavare, the prime minister who intends to sign the security deal with Beijing, has reassured traditional partners that a Solomon Islands government would not allow a Chinese “military base” to be built in the country. But he blasted their criticism of the security pact as “insulting”.

The uproar reflects long-running problems in western powers’ approach to the region. While they see the maritime space belonging to Pacific island nations as strategic, their foreign policy bureaucracies lack the…

2022-04-05 00:00:29

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