The recent pact between China and the Solomon Islands has exposed the manifest hypocrisy with which the United States and Australia view their relationship with smaller members of the Pacific community. The Solomon Islands have recently signed a security deal with China. The details of the arrangement have not been publicly disclosed, but it is believed to provide for periodic visits by Chinese warships to the small Pacific Island nation, and for the provision of Chinese assistance in maintaining public order.
For the Solomons, the deal represents a further stage in a remarkable turnaround in their relationship with China. Until 2019 the Solomons was one of the few remaining countries in the world that recognised the island of Taiwan as the legitimate rulers of China. That observed position was clearly unsustainable, and the recognition of the Peoples Republic of China as the legitimate rulers of the whole of China, which includes the island of Taiwan, was a recognition of reality.
The recent pact signed between the PRC and the Solomons has given rise to the expected flurry of hypocrisy from the United States and Australia, with both nations assuming an attitude that they are the only ones to dictate who the island nation may be governed by, who they may enter contracts with, and under what conditions.
According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 29 April 2022, reliably reflecting the Australian government’s position as it usually does, invoked memories of the World War II battle of the Guadalcanal by United States forces in 1944 to justify the United States position that the Chinese should never be allowed to establish a base in the country.
United States Congressman Joe Courtney was quoted as saying that the Chinese-Solomon Islands deal “deeply concerned” the United States and that the United States and its allies (a reference to Australia) should do more to “safeguard the region”.
The United States Congressman invoked memories of the battle of Guadalcanal where 2000 United States marines died in the battle to justify the continued United States interest in the country. The signing of the China-Solomons deal so alarmed the Americans that they dispatched two of their high-level representatives to the island what was an obvious attempt to persuade (or threaten) the Islanders against the deal with China.
Unnamed Australian security experts were quoted as being alarmed that the Chinese government was taking advantage of the interregnum until the forthcoming (May 2022) general election to be held in Australia, which they described as a “military foothold” in the nation. There are a number of issues raised by the United States and Australian response to the possible military presence of Chinese forces in the islands.
The first is that the Solomons are located 2000 km north east of the Australian mainland. They are hardly a close neighbour whose military agreement should raise any concern for Australia. Not the least of the objections to the Australian presence is that it totally overlooks the Australian and United States presence in the South China Sea, which is a lot less than 2000 km from the Chinese border whose coastline traverses part of that sea. That presence, under the manifestly false claim of insuring “freedom of navigation” represents a clear and present danger to China.
The hostile view of Australia to China is further exhibited by the presence of Australian warships in the narrow strip of waterway between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. That waterway is a vital part of China’s communication link with Asia and up to and including the African coast.
Australia’s professed concern about the Chinese move to the Solomons representing a threat to their sea links to the United States rings especially hollow in the light of the blatantly anti-China moves of their own naval forces.
Also on Friday, the Prime Minister of the Solomons, Manasseh Sogevare accused Australia of hypocrisy, saying that they should have been more transparent with other Pacific nations when it signed the so-called AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom and United States) pact before criticising the new Honiara-Beijing deal of secrecy. Mr Sogevare told his parliament that the Solomons and other members of the Pacific should have been consulted to ensure the AUKUS treaty was transparent, since it would affect the “Pacific family” by allowing nuclear submarines in Pacific waters.
He has a point. Hypocrisy is not too strong a word to use to describe the manufactured outrage in the Australian government that the Solomons should have the temerity to exhibit a show of independence and to make an arrangement with China that they see as protecting and promoting their self-interest.
It is a lesson that the Australian and United States governments have difficulty in accepting. The Solomons are entitled to make decisions that they perceive to be in their national interest. Appeals to American sacrifices in a war now 77 years ago are rightly seen as a manufactured reason to interfere in the self-governance of an independent country.
The sooner the Americans and Australians recognise that Pacific nations do not exist to meet their manufacture reasons for confronting China the better we will all be.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based former Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.