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China’s stealthy move in the Pacific

Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele at a ceremony in Beijing. Noel Celis/Getty

Largely overlooked by the Ukraine-obsessed media, a new security deal between China and the Solomon Islands is a “disastrous development”, says Greg Sheridan in The Australian. It’s an unequivocal failure for Western diplomacy to let China expand its influence so deep into the Pacific, but it’s part of a pattern. President Xi Jinping promised Barack Obama he would not militarise the South China Sea – there are now “22 points of military presence” there. Even New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern has “for once got a strategic assessment right”, calling the new Chinese-Solomons deal “gravely concerning”.

Australia’s intelligence agencies have long known about China’s “serious ambition” to establish a military base in the South Pacific, and Beijing may achieve its objective in the Solomon Islands. The Chinese have advantages over more squeamish countries like Australia and New Zealand. They can throw money around “far more indiscriminately” for one thing: lavishing trips and subsidies on local elites, funding “shonky infrastructure”, and – perhaps most importantly – sending aid money that finds its way “directly into the pockets of politicians”. When popular unrest led to MPs trying to overthrow the Solomon Islands government in 2021, the Aussies and Kiwis tried to calm the situation by sending in troops. But what ended up resolving the crisis was the Chinese offering $30,000 to any politician who voted to keep the status quo. Perhaps it’s no surprise the Islanders are turning to Beijing. If the West doesn’t start paying closer attention, we may be in for a “strategic surprise”.