China-Solomon Islands Agreement: Small Archipelagos for Big Challenges

(To Andrea Forte)

China and the Solomon Islands signed a security agreement in April which, in the event of a threat to the social order of the islands themselves, provides that China can send soldiers, while the possibility that Beijing can build a military base there is not explicitly mentioned. .

The Solomon Islands are an island state in the southern Pacific Ocean, north-east of Australia. The agreement constitutes yet another piece of the challenge between the current hegemon, the United States and the power that aspires to contend for supremacy, China, but at the same time leverages the domestic dynamics of the small Melanesian state.

The pact only reaffirms the nature and extent of the ongoing confrontation. Dramatic competition, because it involves states that, in their minimum geo-demographic extension, are constantly at risk of economic failure or even disappearance due to the increase in the level of the oceans, which could submerge them. Smallness that translates into geopolitical inconsistency, which tragically clashes with the gigantism of the contenders for world power.

At the same time, this challenge reveals its immense nature, as it is forced to play itself even and literally on small rocks in the ocean and ultimately reveals to us its total and truly competition for the primacy, precisely because it is played on water, certifying that in history domination is absolute only if it is thalassocratic.

The agreement therefore involves several levels. Considering the geographical location of the Solomons, one cannot fail to see how they are beyond that first chain of large islands on which the United States pivots to contain the rise of China. A siege, which prevents her from going to sea, or from attempting to climb to power. Above all, the Solomons are beyond one island in particular, Taiwan, which China does not own and which at the same time considers her as such and necessary as a gateway to the Pacific, therefore a breakdown of American containment. For Beijing, forging an agreement of this kind means showing itself capable of bypassing the siege, but at the same time underlines its existence and therefore the inability to break it. This type of agreement is then a sortie, perhaps to be transformed into a future springboard towards the heights of strength.

An integral part of the struggle for the island's return to mainland China is to prevent its official recognition by other states. It then turns out that the Solomon Islands had already officially broken off relations with Taiwan in 2019. The security agreement of 2022 therefore appears to be the outcome of a process, which, however, does not heal the aforementioned contradictions nor the strictly local ones of the archipelago.

The Solomons have been independent since 1978 and in 1983 officially recognize Taiwan. Here it should be noted in passing that, if the battle of China passes through the diplomatic isolation of Taiwan, the battle of Taipei is parallel and contrary, which in part links its right to survive to the greatest possible number of acknowledgments of its existence. Today the principle of the existence of a single China applies and therefore those who recognize Beijing do not recognize Taipei and vice versa. Having relations with Taiwan has meant since 83 a flow of investments aimed both at development and at oiling power through bribes that transformed influence into geopolitical leverage. However, the Solomons, like so many of the small independent Pacific archipelagos, are not nations in the western sense of the term, but are sums of social units, restricted at most to individual islands. Any effective influence, whether Chinese or Taiwanese, must take this into account. In particular, in the Solomons, the persistent tension between the inhabitants of the island of Guadalcanal, in which the capital Honiara resides, and the inhabitants of the island of Malaita, the most populous, should be emphasized, who from the beginning emigrated and acquired positions in Guadalcanal.

Taiwan's aid to Malaita is still very structured. At the same time, China has taken up residence in the capital. The nature of Chinese aid is actually a debt trap, the goal of which is geopolitical expansion. The dragon's aid is not aimed at developing local economies, but importing raw materials, labor and their own companies into them. One was immediately established Chinatown and Chinese companies have acquired almost all the economic activities of the island, ousting the Malaitans and therefore the power of Taiwan. Thus both Taiwan and China have fostered local social fractures. In the archipelago the frequent riots have had among the various objects of the dispute precisely the assault of the Malaitans against the Chinese in the capital.

In 2006, on the occasion of the legislative elections, the attack on Chinatown of Honiara came after news of a rigged vote by China. This assault was replicated precisely as a reaction to the breakdown of official relations with Taiwan in 2019 and the opening in Beijing. At that moment the governor of Malaita, Daniel Suidani, made the decision to ban the Chinese companies. It is not only the economy that antagonizes the Malaitans, there are also their democratic and Christian traditions, which do not tolerate the Chinese repressive posture (see Hong Kong, Christian minority etc…).

The straw that broke the camel's back in 2019 was the assignment to the Solomons of the Pacific games of 2023, for which Taiwan said it was willing to provide a loan of 40 million dollars to build a stadium, but Beijing offered half a billion and as a gift the construction of the same. In return, he obtained Taiwan's disavowal ...

In December last year, new protests in the capital have always had as their subject the allegations of Chinese bribes to Prime Minister Sogavare and the attack on the Chinese in the capital. From this first overview it can be seen how neither Taiwan nor China act in these countries to solve their problems, but to exploit them in their own geopolitical projects. It is no coincidence that Taiwan tried to inspire an independence referendum in Malaita and the United States proposed to provide economic aid to the Malaitans, as opposed to what China offers to the central state.

The dynamics, however, are even more complex. Analyzing the bigger picture, we talked about US domination, which is expressed through anti-Chinese containment, through local powers. The challenge of Beijing is therefore not directly in physical-geographical contact with the United States, but is forced to primarily undermine its allies in the area. In this sense, the agreement with the Solomons, to the north-east of Australia, an ally of Washington, is aimed precisely at hitting an Australian strategic security area, trying to intersect the routes that connect it to the United States.

Traditionally, Australia exerts its influence over the small independent island states of "its" adjacent Pacific, not so much with military dominance, as with the interest in keeping the game of the great powers out of it, creating a sort of neutral oceanic-island cushion. The agreement in question is not the first, for some time now China has been able to penetrate this quadrant and its Australian "neutrality" and by now, among the various archipelagos, only four recognize Taiwan.

For this reason, the classic line of non-intervention or “light” intervention of Australia at these latitudes has become more assertive. Camberra, for example, together with the United States financed an independence referendum for that part of the Solomon Islands, the island of Bouganville, which belongs to Papua New Guinea, where the victory of yeses and the separation agreements in progress made it possible to exclude a parallel Chinese support offered to this independence and to play it by Australia to put pressure on the other Solomon Islands (and on Papua New Guinea itself). Once again the geopolitical game takes place along the line of existing lacerations.

Despite what has been said so far, Australia has historically intervened in support of the government in the Solomons against the excess of Malaitan unrest, something in apparent contradiction with the anti-Chinese posture. Here the principle is valid that the local dynamics for medium and large powers count only as a function of their matches, and stability is worth more than its opposite, first of all because this would require costly interventions, then because whatever weight a hostile faction may assume, is it is enough to counterbalance it with an adverse one, rather than commit to totally dominate, where the final victory will however be played on a great success of the American containment or on a great break with it, with great moves between great powers, and not bleeding for small "rocks".

Looking further, we see that the Solomons' agreement with China was made after the signing of the Aukus, the pact that since September 2021 binds Australia to the United States and the United Kingdom, through a supply of nuclear submarines. (in anti-Chinese function). Therefore a classic action and reaction between empires on the move.

Just shortly after the Beijing-Honiara deal, the chess game continued. On April 26 in Ramstein, Germany, a group of countries that went far beyond those of NATO and also involved the main allied powers of the United States in the Pacific (Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea) reiterated their condemnation and commitment against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A meeting apparently unrelated to the single pact of the islands and the containment against the dragon, but which stops being so if one analyzes that at the same time Russia is a bicontinental state, overlooking the North-Pacific and that even here "cultivates" useful tensions to dust them off against if necessary. In fact, since the end of the Second World War, Moscow has occupied the Kuril Islands (formerly Japan) and Japan on 22 April, that is, immediately after the Chinese move and just before Ramstein, takes care for the first time since 1945 to declare them officially occupied so illegal. Here then is that the match against Russia extends to the main American ally in the Pacific, where the maximum challenge takes place. Obviously Japan's main rival is not Russia, it is China, but it is mobilized against Russia, in order to obtain returns against Beijing.

In confirmation of this connection, it should be noted that on April 28th a trip by the German Chancellor Scholz (of a rearmament Germany!) Takes place in Japan, but for the first time without taking advantage of visiting China as well, which traditionally Chancellor Merkel instead he did, finally arriving at 4 May, at the meeting between the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Fumio Kishida, Japanese Prime Minister, in Rome. So the three main losers of the Second World War intent on close reciprocal visits and all three involved (more unwillingly than willing) in the double competition of their dominus.

It therefore appears clear how a single American empire, extending from Europe to the Pacific, is closing ranks in the face of the two rising and falling superpowers, China and Russia, in defense of the hierarchy of force it has created.

The carrying out of this muscular test between empires is destined to crush even more minimal realities such as the Solomons, without being able to see their problems resolved by those giants, who already use them for the supreme battle.

Image: Google Maps