Published: 15:19, May 31, 2022 | Updated: 15:19, May 31, 2022
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Why US is worried about Pacific islands
By Yang Wenjing

The Western media have been playing up China's new security agreement with the Solomon Islands, the first of its kind signed by China with a Pacific island nation. In particular, the agreement has evoked a lot of criticism and hostility from the US, which immediately sent a delegation led by White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell to the country and claimed there is "lack of transparency" in the agreement.

Among other things, the US has said the agreement appears to "leave the door open for China to send military forces to the islands".

In fact, China’s economic development based on social stability has provided a viable alternative to the Western model for developing countries in the region

The US has also said that "if steps are taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power-projection capabilities, or a military installation, the United States would then have significant concerns and respond accordingly". Although it has not given any indication about what its response would be to such an eventuality, it has emphasized it will closely follow the developments in consultation with its regional partners.

On the other hand, Australia has said that if the agreement allows for a Chinese "military base" in the Solomon Islands, it would be akin to China crossing a "redline", while New Zealand has alleged the pact breaches an agreement among members of the Pacific Islands Forum for nations to "confer with each other on defense matters before making major decisions". And Japan, voicing concern over China's growing presence in the region, has stepped up security cooperation with its Western partners and sent a delegation to the Solomon Islands.

Moreover, the US side has outlined the specific steps it would take to "advance the welfare of the people of the Solomons, including expediting the opening of an embassy, boosting cooperation on unexploded military ordnance and sending the Mercy hospital ship to address health issues". It has also promised to deliver more vaccines and advance climate and health initiatives.

Reading between the lines, one gets the feeling that the US policy toward the Solomon Islands and other Pacific island countries is a combination of sticks and carrots.

In fact, under pressure from the US and its allies, the Solomon Islands has declared it will not allow any military base, long-term presence or power projection capability under the security deal, while stressing the agreement has solely "domestic applications", meaning it is aimed at getting aid to quell a "riot" in the island country rather than to deal with an outside threat.

Criticizing the West for its hypocrisy over the deal with China, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said that AUKUS(the security alliance among Australia, the United Kingdom and the US) was far from being transparent. "We did not become theatrical and hysterical over the implications this would have for us," he said, and hoped Australia, the US and Japan would "respect our sovereignty as well, based on trust and mutual respect".

Washington's fuss over the issue is its latest move to get the upper hand in the fierce competition in the Asia-Pacific region and out-compete China based on the new strategic priorities it set during the Donald Trump administration, which labeled China as the US' foremost strategic rival.

The Solomon Islands occupy a strategic position in the Pacific and were the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting during World War II. The US and its close allies Australia and Japan are worried about the sensitive location of the Pacific country, which in their eyes is an important part of the so-called third island chain and China penetrating the West's military architecture in the Asia-Pacific, which is based on the US' networked alliance system along the first, second and third island chains.

The US believes (despite the Solomon Islands having ruled out hosting a Chinese "military base") that it is still possible for Chinese vessels to get resupplies in the island country, and Chinese police and military personnel to assist the island authorities to maintain social order.

A draft agreement disclosed in March raised the possibility of China building a naval base in the South Pacific and securing its first military foothold in Oceania. That was unacceptable for Western observers, who are preoccupied with the Sino-US rivalry.

But the fact is, the US has invested little in the Pacific Islands and the Asia-Pacific in the past few years, and a dualistic regional structure-security alignment with the US and economic alignment with China-has been extant for decades. The US lacks the political will and economic incentive to properly engage with countries in the region, while China, thanks to the Belt and Road Initiative's substantial economic package, has helped regional countries build infrastructure and other facilities, which have facilitated their development.

With China's national strength growing, it has become increasingly engaged with the countries in the region not only on the trade and economic fronts but also in political, social and military fields. In fact, China's economic development based on social stability has provided a viable alternative to the Western model for developing countries in the region.

With China's overseas interests expanding, it's only natural that it wants to send police and military personnel, if requested, to not only safeguard China's economic and human interests but also help maintain social order in the host country.

As China's ambassador to the Solomon Islands said, development and security are two sides of the same coin. Without safety and security, countries cannot enjoy sustainable development and economic growth.

Since the US cannot accept China's growing influence or tolerate China challenging its dominance in military affairs in the region, it is waging a disinformation war, by fabricating such concepts as "debt trap", "predatory economy" and "strategic control".

It's time the US realized China and the Solomon Islands, as two sovereign countries, have the right to establish security relations as they see fit for mutual benefit, and that China's economic approach-political stability-based development-has proved to be effective statecraft. There is always more than one road to Rome.


The author is chief of US Foreign Policy, Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.