By: Zahid Jadwat
As Japan and New Zealand join the United States and Australia in voicing concern over a new security pact between China and the Solomon Islands, an expert has said that Beijing and Canberra are bidding for Honiara’s loyalty – and that the former might win.
Several weeks ago, it was revealed that Beijing and Honiara sought to enter into a pact that would allow China to establish a military base within 2,000km of the Australian east coast.
It would allow China to “make ship visits to, carry out logistical replenishment in, and have stopover and transition in the Solomon Islands”.
“There’s no practical importance of the Solomon Islands for China, but it does rile up Australia and that may be China’s ultimate purpose here,” said Salvatore Babones, associate professor at the University of Sydney, in an interview with Radio Islam.
“China and Australia are really in a kind of bidding war for who can be the country that’s the big brother for the Solomon Islands.”
Babones explained that the Solomons appear to be playing Australia off against China for a higher stake.
“The economic situation has long been dire in the Solomon Islands has resulted in very unstable politics. There have been Australian interventions on the Solomon Islands at the invitation of the Solomons government; to repress riots, to help public security [and] to help train the police,” he said.
“There’s been a sort of neo-colonial relationship (I don’t use that to condemn it, it’s simply the Solomons have repeatedly asked for Australian assistance). Now, they’ve realised that they can play Australia off against China. Simply by asking for help from China, they can get a higher bid from Australia.”
He said that China could be playing for political gain rather than practicality.
“Brisbane would be the closest major city to the Solomon Islands and they command the sea approaches to north-eastern Australia – that’s a big deal for Australia. Most people here view this as a much more political move by China than a practical military move,” he said.
“China is very aware that getting some kind of presence off Australia’s cost will make people in Australia nervous and I think they’re just trying to give Australia a little poke in the eye,” Babones said.
Listen to the full interview here: