The Pacific Influence War – Part 4

Alessandro Ponzetto | April 29th, 2022

Once again, the Solomon Islands are back in the news, as the political aftermath of the signing is still continuing. Today, we will focus on our little protagonist, which has been dwarfed by the politicking between big players.

As covered previously, the Solomon Islands is an archipelago in the Pacific, with internal divisions that have only been made worse by the current diplomatic environment. In fact, the protests that occurred last year, which also targeted Chinese interests, is a symptom of this division, which goes beyond the time by which China was officially recognised by Honiara (it swapped recognition from Taiwan to mainland China in 2019).

While indeed the Australian Defence Force responded to the call for aid, the fact of having ignored these divisions and other underlying issues created the perfect environment for the security deal with Beijing to happen. For better or worse, that was a wake-up call for China, which found in Sogavare an amicable party to deal with.

Whether or not the Chinese will actually build a base is, at this moment in time, beside the point. What all players have to take home from this is learning from one’s mistakes, which can be exemplified by the very stark difference between Japan and Australia.

Both countries named are part of the Quad, but have had very different responses and reactions to the news. When it comes to Japan, as covered in Part 3, they sent vice Foreign Minister Uesegi to the islands, and have done a sort of mea culpa. There is the notion in Japan that, had they helped more, this deal would not have happened.

One who voiced this concern is the mayor of Yonaguni, which is at the forefront of the dispute between Japan and China due to its strategic location (it is the first Japanese inhabited island East of Taiwan, as shown by the map below).

While this may be so, after all Japan has done many good things all across the region and is continuing to do so (with Kishida’s trip, mentioned in ‘The Rising Sun goes on tour’, starting today with Indonesia), it is a somewhat unfair criticism. The reason is rather simple: Japan cannot and should not compensate for the shortcomings of others, which in this case are Australia and the US.

Speaking of Australia, the uptick in rhetoric from Morrison and his government were countered by PM Sogavare, who brought up the example of AUKUS. Sogavare said he knew about the deal only due to the media attention and that he would have preferred being consulted first, as the Solomons are part of the Pacific. Yet, he did not react with hysteria on the matter, with the following quote being the crux of the matter:

“I realise that Australia is a sovereign country and it can enter into any treaty it wants to, transparently or not, which is exactly what they did with the AUKUS treaty.”

While not all of his criticisms are correct, as it considers the notion of nuclear-powered submarines as a violation of the Rarotonga Treaty, which is about nuclear weapons not being allowed in the South Pacific, this particular point is the key. For better or worse, the Solomon Islands have done nothing substantially wrong and it has done so with its vested interest in mind, precisely like Australia with AUKUS.

Hopefully, both the US and Australia, despite the issue having been used for political reasons (including in the US), will learn a very important lesson: reacting after facts happen is a recipe for failure, as not only it grants others the tempo advantage but effectively forces countries such as the Solomons towards a particular direction. Then again, it is just another sign of the US losing its way, one of the primary causes for many of current developments.

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