According to Australia’s defense minister, plans to build a Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands would be a cause for concern after a proposed agreement between Beijing and Honiara was leaked online. The plans, which must be approved by the Solomon Islands’ cabinet, would allow China to deploy security and navy forces to the island nation.
Security talks between China and the Solomon Islands could provide a safe harbor for Chinese warships nearly 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) away from Australia’s mainland. A copy of the agreement was posted by a New Zealand academic on social media on Thursday, prompting the ministers to speak out. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation confirmed the agreement’s authenticity.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton told Channel Nine that 50 Australian police personnel were in the Solomon Islands at Honiara’s request. They will remain there until 2023. He said he expressed his concern to the Solomon Islands government about any military bases that might be established. ‘We want peace and stability in the region. We don’t want unsettling influences and we don’t want pressure and coercion that we are seeing from China continuing to roll out in the region’, he added.
China would be able to request military assistance from the Solomon Islands for disasters or political disturbances, while Beijing could conduct ship visits, logistics replenishment, and conduct stopovers in the Solomon Islands, according to the paper. As part of its global outreach to poor countries, China has increased its footprint in the Pacific in the last decade.
The Solomon Islands government, led by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, has developed closer ties with Beijing in recent years, including a disputed decision in September 2019 to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China.