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Security agreement with the Solomon Islands: a test for China, a lesson (…)

The security agreement reached on April 19 between China and the Solomon Islands reflects Beijing’s firm desire to substitute its influence for that of the Anglo-Saxons in the South Pacific and to continue the normalization of its role in international security. . It is a test of China’s international commitment and its enhanced visibility abroad, but also an additional lesson for Westerners, who must clarify their discourse and respond concretely to the expectations of their partners.

The Solomon Islands

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By signing a security agreement on April 19, 2022 with the People’s Republic of China authorizing the latter, upon request, to deploy law enforcement and/or military forces on its territory, the Solomon Islands caused a stir in the United States. States and among their partners in the Pacific Islands Forum, particularly in Australia. Australia, in fact, the second trading partner of Honiara (capital of the Solomon Islands), concluded a similar agreement in 2017. It intervened within the framework of the RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands) between 2003 and 2017 to end the civil war and support the reconstruction of the archipelago state, then in November 2021, as part of a police operation, to deal with local riots with an uncertain outcome. It now sees itself placed on an equal footing with communist China, Honiara’s largest economic partner, with which diplomatic relations were only established in 2019. People’s China with which Australia is in open diplomatic and economic conflict.

If this maneuver, anchored in its diplomatic doctrine known as “friends of all, enemies of no one”, initiated in 2020, is part of Honiara’s desire to broaden the spectrum of its external relations and reduce its dependence on Canberra , it reflects above all the firm will of Beijing, after having forged diplomatic ties with Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu in recent years, to substitute its influence for that of the Anglo-Saxons in their pre-square that east of the South Pacific, to extend its security perimeter to the east while securing its access to the Pacific Ocean, but above all to continue normalizing its role in international security.

Unlike its main partner, Russia, and its main rival, the United States, which place the use of force at the heart of their foreign policy, the People’s Republic of China remains anchored in the spirit of the Bandung conference, favoring the non-use of force, the refusal of a permanent military presence abroad, non-interference or unconditioned win-win economic relations. However, this restraint is only apparent and has significantly eroded since the early 2010s.

Enhanced visibility

On the one hand, in its “near abroad”, communist China does not hesitate to use coercion to advance its interests in the China Seas against its neighbors, from Japan to Indonesia to Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia or Taiwan, but also along its still disputed land borders, such as in the Himalayas, facing India. On the other hand, in its more distant foreign countries, the People’s Republic of China remains more cautious. However, its quest for centrality and its growing projection on the international scene, associated with Xi Jinping’s offensive policy, reflect a heightened visibility abroad, a source of opportunities and vulnerabilities. The questions surrounding the protection of assets located outside the national territory require answers that call into question the “peaceful” nature of Beijing’s foreign policy.

Each stage of this standardization is associated with the affirmation of cooperation. Thus, when Xi Jinping promised a force of 8,000 men to the UN in 2015 for his peace operations, he offered his army training and operational experience in peacekeeping, in contact with the real world. Today, communist China deploys more than double the number of soldiers in UN operations than the other four permanent members of the Security Council combined. When in 2017, Beijing inaugurated its first military logistics base abroad (Djibouti), it met the need to have the necessary tools to fight in a multilateral framework against maritime piracy on a central axis of its international trade, including the Gulf of Aden is an obligatory point of passage.

When in recent years, the Chinese have intensified joint training and exercises with their Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) partners in the fight against terrorism, separatism and extremism, the three scourges, with the West, for Beijing and Moscow, and let contingents be stationed in bases in Tajikistan, financed and built by them, they do so in parallel with the development of infrastructural and logistical projects under the banner of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the related multilateral cooperation of a Sino-centric nature.

Small steps policy

The agreement of April 19, 2022, accompanied by economic assistance and police training, is part of this logic. It offers the prospect of collaborative security operations between communist China and Australia, at the request of Honiara, and is part of Beijing’s desire to assert its right and responsibility to reshape the international security order in its own image. in order to defend its national interests abroad. It characterizes the policy of small steps which legitimizes Beijing’s “soft” permanent settlements far from its national territory, while neutralizing criticism: militarization of the seas of China, construction of a port network in the Indian Ocean and beyond, future projection in the South Pacific.

Therefore, the issue is not necessarily the prospect of building a Chinese naval base on the island archipelago, even if the Solomon Islands are located opposite the site which should accommodate the future fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. Australians, but rather that of a concrete, even lasting, deployment of Chinese security forces capable of transforming this archipelago state into a protectorate, even though it is on the strategic axis that links Australia to the United States via Hawaii. In this regard, it is necessary to question the pioneering nature of this agreement and its potential duplication in other regions of the world where other micro-States, but not only, seek to strengthen their internal security while diversifying their external relations.

Test in Beijing for a new form of international commitment in terms of security, this agreement is an additional lesson for Westerners who must clarify their discourse and go beyond the security framework of their policy in the South Pacific, but not only, to reinvest in areas where their influence is contested and to respond concretely to the expectations of their partners in terms of support for development or the fight against global warming, within the framework of collaborations of equals. An innovative reflection on the future contours of the regional order in the South Pacific and, more generally, in the Indo-Pacific is essential.

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