The Solomon Islands are probably the most strategic avenue in the Indo-Pacific region. The unique position of this land mass offers multiple possibilities to different world powers. Continuously altering global dynamics have triggered global powers to ramp up engagement with the Solomon Islands and well, it looks like China is leading the race.
The islands provide China with things it didn’t have before, a superior hold on the Pacific along with a perfect place to ramp up its space operations. This gives US and Australia a good enough reason to be scared.
Beijing Eyes the Solomon Islands
The United States has rallied regional powers like India, Japan and Australia in the Indo-Pacific to counter the growing influence of China. Organizations like QUAD and high-profile defense deals like AUKUS are signed to keep the Chinese in check.
Yet, the Chinese are also not backing out. They have made whole-hearted attempts to maintain their sway over the area. Beijing has increased attention to ASEAN countries and has successfully established presence in various states along the East Africa shoreline.
Now, China is looking toward the Solomon Islands. Actually, it has already been developing significant influence over the islands since 2020. China’s presence in the Solomon Islands has seen private Chinese enterprises trying to acquire strategic assets for the military.
The Chinese defense ministry-affiliated company, ‘China Sam Enterprise Group’ previously made attempts to take control of the Tulagi Islet for a prospective construction project. However, the proposal did not go through after the attorney general scrapped the deal.
Xu Changyu, the vice-president of China Sam, returned with a proposal to partner with AVIC International Project Engineering, a subsidiary of a Chinese state aerospace and defense group.
Xu had an idea for a new project. It was aimed at studying the “opportunities to develop naval and infrastructure projects on leased land for the People’s Liberation Army Navy with exclusive rights for 75 years”.
Geo–political significance of the Solomon Islands
After the failure of the first deal, China and Solomon Islands negotiated a security pact that was signed by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and Solomon Islands’ Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Jeremiah Manele.
According to the leaked version of the deal:
“China may, according to its own needs and with the consent of the Solomon Islands, make ship visits to, carry out logistics replenishment in, and have stopover and transition in the Solomon Islands, and the relevant forces can be used to protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands,”
One might wonder, why the Chinese are set on establishing themselves on the Solomon? Well, the significance of the islands is unappreciated.
Chinese presence on the islands would pose a direct threat to US’ Guam doctrine. Guam sits 3,200 km north of the Solomon Islands and is considered the center of the United States’ power projection in the Pacific.
Guam is part of the US’ Second Island Chain defense strategy, which emerged as the primary containment approach toward China since the end of the Cold War.
American intentions to replace China on the islands seem like a far-fetched dream after the signing of the deal. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare recently said all “foreign navy vessels will be temporarily blocked” from docking at the island.
It looks like the PM has sold the islands to Beijing. It would not be late before China sends its army there and docks its warships. This will create a huge security threat for US’ ally Australia, which lies just 2000 KM South-west to the Solomon Islands.
Surprisingly, the extent of the island’s significance does not end here. The landmass is situated considerably close to the equator. If a spacecraft is launched from a site near Earth’s equator, it can take optimum advantage of the Earth’s substantial rotational speed.
The Chinese have already mentioned the interest of AVIC International Project Engineering, subsidiary of a Chinese-state aerospace and defense group, in developing infrastructure on the island.
It is a well-known fact that China lacks a proper geographic location to advance their space program. It is reportedly lacking behind the likes of India and the US in space exploration, due to the same.
Therefore, it would not be wrong to assume that China could also utilize the islands to advance its space program and launch better surveillance satellites from the location.