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An Australian Pacific tale: Climate security, sovereignty and neglect

  • 10 May 2022
  On May 3, the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, vented his fury in parliament at ‘the continual demonstration of lack of trust by the concerned parties, and tacit warning of military intervention in Solomon Islands if their national interest is undermined in Solomon Islands.’

The targets of the speech — Australia and the United States — were clear enough. ‘[W]e are being treated as kindergarten students walking around with Colt .45s in our hands, and therefore need to be supervised.’

Both countries have expressed concerns at the potential establishment of a Chinese military base in the country. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called this a ‘red line’, while US National Security Council official Kurt Campbell has promised that Washington would ‘respond accordingly’.

Resentment runs deep in Honiara. The Solomon Islands has been treated, at stages, as a failed state, a security risk, and a charity case. The Australian-led Regional Assistance to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) was not enough to prevent a wandering eye towards Beijing.

In February, Chinese police officers were sent to the Solomon Islands as part of the People’s Republic of China Public Security Bureau’s Solomon  Islands Policing Advisory Group. Their mission seemed to encroach on matters otherwise within the purview of RAMSI: improving the ‘anti-riot capabilities’ of local police forces.

The February deployment was the precursor to the Sino-Solomon Islands security pact, which had already been released in draft form. The agreement permits China, on Honiara’s request, to ‘send police, police military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces’ for reasons of maintaining social order, protecting lives and property, providing humanitarian assistance, carrying out disaster response, or ‘providing assistance on other tasks agreed upon by the Parties’.

'Pacific Island states have been recipients of such unwanted, denigrating wisdom for years. After the Pacific Islands summit of August 2019, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was appalled by Morrison’s ‘very insulting, very condescending’ behaviour towards Pacific Island states.'

Of particular concern to Australian and US officials is the allowance, with the consent of Honiara, for Beijing to ‘make ship visits to, carry out logistical replenishment in, and have stopover and transition in Solomon Islands’. Chinese personnel may also be used in protecting Chinese personnel and projects on the islands.

Announcement of its formalisation caused jitters in Canberra. Rather than mulling over the reasons behind the agreement, the Australian attitude has been one of insensitive harassment and mild panic. Despite taking place during an election campaign, Senator Zed Seselja,