US Opens Door For China Advances In The Pacific

(MENAFN- Asia Times) China and the US are competing for liquid real estate, undersea resources and military advantage among the South Pacific's isolated island nations, a superpower contest to win influence over their economies, airstrips, seaports and security forces.

China is widely perceived as expanding its Belt and Road Network across the Pacific's watery“Blue Continent” to eventually reach North, Central, and South America plus Antarctica, all the while empowering Beijing's military, markets, international policies and diplomacy.

On May 2, China scored a victory when the strategic Solomon Islands elected pro-Beijing Prime Minister Jeremiah Manele, 55, formerly foreign minister in the China-friendly government of outgoing prime minister Manasseh Sogavare.

The US, Australia, New Zealand and their allies were already worried because the two countries signed a 2022 bilateral Solomon Islands Security Agreement.

Critics feared the China-Solomon Islands pact could allow Beijing to construct a navy base on the islands, situated 2,000 kilometers northeast of Australia. China and the Solomon Islands said the pact would not result in a Chinese military base on the nation's six main islands or 900 smaller islands.

“We are not stupid to ask for a military base, as we ourselves could be a target for a military strike in the future in the event of an armed conflict between the major powers,” Manele, then foreign minister, told Parliament in 2022.

“Having a stable Solomon Islands is also about securing stable and prosperous Pacific region,” he said.

China trained the Solomon Islands' police, provided water cannon vehicles and boosted their anti-riot tactics after unrest, some of it anti-Chinese, disrupted the islands.

Protests, riots, arson and looting erupted in 2021 after the Solomon Islands switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 2019 when Manele was foreign minister. Australia, under its joint security pact with the Solomon Islands, sent police to the islands' capital Honiara to quash the civil unrest.

US Opens Door For China Advances In The Pacific Image

Flames rise from buildings in Honiara's Chinatown on November 26, 2021 as days of rioting saw thousands ignore a government lockdown order. Photo: Asia Times Files / AFP via Getty Images / Charley Piringi

Manele was expected to continue Solomon Islands friendly relations with China, which dramatically strengthened during the administration of outgoing prime minister Sogavare who selected Manele to be a prime ministerial candidate. The Solomon Islands will be“friends to all, and enemies to none,” Manele said.

China's recent construction of an airfield on Guadalcanal, the largest of the Solomon Islands, evoked chilling reminders of America's World War II Battle of Guadalcanal to seize it from Japan.

In 1942, Guadalcanal Island suffered the first large US military offensive to stop Japan's use of the Solomons to air bomb ships sailing between the US and Australia.


Asia Times

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