Beijing “sure is getting its money’s worth” from the security pact it signed with the Solomon Islands back in spring, says The Wall Street Journal. The tiny Pacific nation has started turning away port visits by US and allied ships. Two recent incidents, involving a US Coast Guard cutter and Britain’s HMS Spey, were blamed on “paperwork snafus”. But they should not be mistaken for the ordinary “bureaucratic confusion” of a small state. The American embassy in Australia says the country has placed a moratorium on naval visits until “new procedures” can be worked out.
The Solomon Islands lie just northeast of Australia and their deal with Beijing, which opens the door to a Chinese military and police presence on the island, represents a major coup in a hotly contested region. It’s China’s “most direct foray” into the South Pacific so far and marks an escalation from their previous policy of exerting influence through trade and investment. Beijing is growing “more assertive” in naval matters and throwing its weight around with recipients of its economic largesse. The Biden administration has been slow to spot the danger, but has at last dispatched diplomats to the region, and is planning to open new embassies in other South Pacific nations and commit more financial aid. By cementing its friendship with the Solomons, Beijing has succeeded in giving the US and its allies an “unpleasant surprise”.