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04.05.2022 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Solomon Islands: a New Focus for US-China Confrontation


The Solomon Islands have been added to Taiwan and Ukraine, two of the most “heated” zones of the current phase of the “Great Game,” since late March this year. Regarding this state, most readers are unlikely to be able to say anything more or less definitive (if they even know of its existence).

This is not surprising, since this is a country of a total population of 700,000 people located (“somewhere” in the South Pacific) on a group of small islands two thousand kilometers off the north-eastern coast of Australia. There are about half a dozen state formations of a more or less similar nature in the whole of the giant Pacific Ocean area. And as relations between the two major players (the US and the PRC) deteriorate, some of them are increasingly at the top of the list of the hottest international political news. As they say, now it’s the turn of the Solomon Islands.

Leaving aside the question of why there has been a recent increase in nervousness amongst the players mentioned (in relation to various developments around the island states outlined above), the author shall refer only to the facts of the recent past. Throughout World War II, most of the (enormous in scale) US Navy and Air Force, i.e. one of its major participants, were tackling the problem of conquering the Pacific island archipelagos. The fierceness of the battles at that time is demonstrated by the nearly month-long assault on the island of Iwo Jima (measuring three by eight kilometers), which took place, it should be stressed, at the end of the war. With absolute dominance at sea and in the air, the Americans lost 15,000 men (speaking of frequent derogatory, shameful sentences regarding the quality of American soldiers). The Japanese garrison, numbering 23,000 men, fulfilled orders from Tokyo and perished completely.

So the current wary reaction from the same US and allied Australia to signs of the new global player’s (China’s) diverse influence on the same Pacific island states should come as no surprise.

In this case, let us again pay attention to the peculiarity of Chinese “expansion” in the world in general and, above all, in “developing countries,” which is fundamentally different from what China’s current geopolitical opponents were doing in the same countries a hundred or two hundred years ago. China comes to a particular “developing country” with projects to solve its problems: in economy, healthcare and education, assistance in combating external threats. This explains the success of the spread of modern China’s influence in the world, which is a growing concern for global competitors who have not been able to offer anything equally effective.

It is only natural therefore that, as the above-mentioned process unfolds, Beijing is also addressing its own various problems, including those coming as a direct consequence of the worsening of relations with its main rival, the US. As the political and strategic component is gaining in importance, China is trying to do something to counter the US system of political and military alliances built up over decades in the Indo-Pacific region with a direct military presence on allies’ territories.

At present, China does not possess anything even close to the scale of this component. Neither in the IPR, much less in other regions. It is safe to say that China will not show anything resembling the American military presence in the world in the near future.

The most frequently cited evidence to the contrary is the Chinese military base in Djibouti, that is, in a tiny, poor state located on the north-eastern tip of Africa, washed by the waters of the Gulf of Aden. Djibouti lives by renting out parts of its territory to those wishing to “control” one of the most important maritime trade routes. There are many of those who now have a military “base” in Djibouti (along with the PRC). That is, a couple or three barracks for a company of soldiers and a berth for a medium-sized warship.

But the world hegemon that is losing firm ground is reacting with wariness to the slightest sign of such activities from its main competitor. All the more so when it takes place in the Pacific Ocean, over which, again, relatively recently, it shed “a lot of sweat” for control.

It is not surprising that, until recently in a half-dreamed state, the watchdog that guards the “established world order” in the IPR, had its ears pricked up as soon as the words “Solomon Islands,” “China” and “military base” began to fly into them in various combinations through the noise of information. These words were present in advance reports by the world’s leading news agencies that a bilateral framework security agreement between the PRC and the Solomon Islands was being prepared for conclusion at the end of March. This was confirmed on behalf of the Chinese Foreign Ministry on April 19.

Kurt Campbell, one of the architects of US policy in the IPR, now in charge of it at the US National Security Council, was immediately dispatched to deal with the potential “threat.” On April 22, a Campbell-led delegation travelled to the Solomon Islands, whose leaders were told they would have “significant concerns and respond accordingly” to any attempts by the PRC to establish its military presence in the South Pacific.

Before this, the delegation had visited Australia to reach a consensus on the sudden problem. It should be noted that in Canberra the initial reports of it caused just as much excitement, stimulated by the factor of heightened internal political struggle on the eve of the regular parliamentary elections scheduled for May 21. Analysts predict a defeat of the current ruling Conservative coalition, under which Australia’s relations with China have gradually deteriorated and are now at their lowest level in decades.

However, the center-left (potential) winners have also markedly worsened their attitude towards Beijing in recent years. In any case, the public rhetoric of both party groups does not show much difference with regard to China in general and its agreement with the Solomon Islands in particular. There was the expected reaction from Beijing to Canberra’s attempts to draw a “red line” in relations with China, allegedly arising with the signing of the document under discussion.

The latter is not explicitly mentioned in the much-discussed (“ceremonial-Easter”) speech by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss at the office of the Lord Mayor of London, which was almost entirely devoted to challenges to international rules that China and Russia refuse to abide by. As an example, Ms. Truss limited herself to mentioning the situation around Taiwan. Apparently, from her perspective, the security framework agreement between the PRC and the Solomon Islands is another such “violation.”

Finally, the problem posed by the signing of this document is part of a chain of events that accompanies the accelerating process of redrawing the global political map. In the most dramatic (if not tragic) way, this process is again (as it has been for the last centuries) unfolding in Europe, which is being “set on fire” by the events in Ukraine.

The director of the global action, which is becoming more and more gloomy, is displaying dark sense of humor and unleashing obviously defective actors on the world political stage. For several years, Greta Thunberg and her “green agenda,” which along with “COVID-19” delivered the first severe blow to the world economy, shone on the political scene.

But the next stage in the radical restructuring of the world order calls for more radical practices, which the new public paeans must demonstrate. It seems that the role of “Greta Tunberg 2” has been assigned to the current Kiev leadership.

As for the practices mentioned, again, they are already being implemented in Europe. Is the Indo-Pacific region with its “hot zones” in the form of Taiwan or the Solomon Islands next in line?

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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