Ties between Beijing and the Solomon Islands leadership continue to deepen after Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare inked a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Mr. Sogavare met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang during a week-long visit to China, which will conclude as the prime minister opens his country’s official embassy in Beijing.
On July 10, Mr. Sogavare signed, in total, nine deals with the CCP to bolster ties between the countries, including an upgrade of police cooperation, as well as trade, civil aviation, and in sports
The move comes a year after the Sogavare government locked in a security deal with CCP that set off alarm bells in Australia and the United States and comes four years after the Solomons switched diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing.
“In just four years, the relationship between China and the Solomon Islands has developed rapidly, and we can now say that it is very fruitful,” Premier Li told Prime Minister Sogavare.
Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare (R) and China’s Premier Li Qiang inspect the guard of honour during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on July 10, 2023. (Andy Wong/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Chinese leader Xi pledged a “new era” between the governments while accusing Western leaders of propagating a “Cold War mentality and hegemony.”
In turn, Mr. Sogavare pledged ongoing cooperation across a range of fields.
“We must remain united in our focus in creating innovative paths of cooperation to close the gap between the haves and the have not,” he told the Forum on Global Action for Shared Development in Beijing.
The continued building of relations between the CCP and Sogavare is aimed at shoring up wider cooperation across the Pacific region, according to Niu Li, executive director at the Beijing Foreign Studies University.
“The China-Solomon Islands cooperation will serve as a model for other Pacific Island countries,” he told the CCP mouthpiece, The Global Times.
Response to the Deal
The U.S. National Security Council responded to the meeting saying it respected the ability of nations “to make sovereign decision in the best interests of their people” while calling on Beijing and the Solomons to release transcripts from the meetings to “increase transparency” around its implications towards regional security.
Meanwhile, Derek Grossman, Indo-Pacific analyst at the RAND Corporation said the latest deal would entrench Beijing’s footprint in the South Pacific.
“Solomon Islands: give us infrastructure, investment, and police training. China: give us military access to your islands,” he wrote on Twitter.
“So far this ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ is progressing exactly as expected.”
Solomons Government Deepens Ties with Beijing
The strategic partnership agreement is the latest step by the Sogavare government to deepen ties with Beijing while benefitting from its continuing aid assistance from Australia and New Zealand.
Late last year, the Solomon Islands government agreed to borrow 448.9 million yuan (US$66.15 million) from the Chinese state-owned Export-Import Bank of China to fund the construction of 161 towers by controversial telecommunications giant Huawei.
“This deal is a demonstration that Beijing is moving fast and in a big, broad way to create more leverage over the Solomon Islands government,” said the director of Strategic Analysis Australia, Michael Shoebridge, in a previous interview with The Epoch Times.
Beijing has used loan programs as a tool for building relationships with developing governments but also entrapping them once they default on their loan repayments (debt-trap diplomacy), compelling local authorities to hand over key assets and infrastructure.
The World Bank estimates that major Pacific nations such as Fiji, Samoa, the Solomons, and Tonga owe around 38 percent of their external debt to the Asian Development Bank, which is 22 percent owned by China.
Meanwhile, in March 2022, the Solomons signed a security deal with Beijing that would allow the CCP to station weapons, troops, and naval ships in the region, raising concerns about the potential expansion of militarisation beyond the South China Sea to the South Pacific.
Despite Beijing’s denials, leaked documents reveal several Chinese entities have expressed interest in facilitating the introduction of military assets to the region.