The secretly brokered and signed security agreement between the Solomon Islands and China has recently made international headlines, with central concern being the possibility that China will use the agreement to set up a military base in the country.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare dismissed such concerns, assuring international and regional leaders that China will not have a military base in the Solomon Islands and that they can take his word for it. But his words are worth little while past actions have shown that he is quite capable of backtracking, especially when it suits his political agenda.
ABC’s Four Corners program recently revealed that a Chinese state-owned company, China Forestry Group Corporation, is negotiating to buy a deep-sea port and World War II airstrip in the Solomon Islands.
The asset allegedly targeted by China is a hardwood forest plantation on the island of Kolombangara, which includes a protected port, a deep-water port and an airstrip.
The Four Corners say a delegation from state-owned China Forestry Group Corporation visited the island in 2019 and, according to those present, showed little interest in the trees. Instead, one member of the group pointedly asked, “How long is the dock and how deep is the water?”
Since the lifting of border restrictions related to COVID-19 last month, talks have resumed.
Solomon Islands needs investments, those that would advance the country’s dire economic situation, and desperate times may call for desperate measures.
Unfortunately for the Solomon Islands, any investment interest by Chinese state-owned companies will be viewed with suspicion. The final content of the secret security agreement between the Solomon Islands and China is still a closely guarded secret – and it looks like it will remain so.
The Prime Minister has been able to draw international attention to this isolated and largely isolated part of the world. But such attention is not the kind we need, for it is viewed from a security angle, and will be approached as such by all interested parties eagerly seeking to advance their own strategic interests.