China may get a naval base less than 2,000km from Australia
24 March 2022
This is a worry! Here is the article from the SMH
China set to sign first security deal in the Pacific on Australia’s doorstep
By Eryk Bagshaw March 24, 2022 — 7.33pm
Singapore: China and Solomon Islands are set to sign off on a security deal that will see Chinese warships based in the Pacific and shift the balance of power in Australia’s region.
The agreement will give China the power to use its military to protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in Solomon Islands and give Beijing a base for its navy less than 2000 kilometres off Australia’s coast. The base would be the first time Australia has had a strategic adversary within striking distance of its coastline since World War II.
“China may, according to its own needs and with the consent of Solomon Islands, make ship visits to, carry out logistical replenishment in and have stopover and transition in the Solomon Islands,” the draft framework agreement states.
“Solomon Islands may, according to its own needs, request China to send police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces to Solomon Islands to assist in maintaining social order, protecting people’s lives and property.”
The draft, released online on Thursday afternoon and verified by the Australian government, is a sharp escalation in the relationship between the two governments after protests, riots and looting gripped the island nation in November.
The conflict was driven by COVID-19 measures, ethnic tensions and regional tensions between Honiara, the capital, and its most populous province, Malaita, but it was also linked to allegations of corruption involving Chinese infrastructure deals and Honiara’s decision to switch its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China.
The draft states Beijing and Honiara will enter into the agreement with the view of “strengthening security co-operation, mutual respect for sovereignty, equality and mutual benefit”.
Anna Powles, a senior lecturer in international security and a Pacific diplomacy expert at New Zealand’s Massey University, said the draft agreement was “very significant”.
“The security agreement is one of the first of its kind in the Pacific; its scope is broad and suitably vague and its provisions range from maintaining public order through to protecting Chinese citizens and assets, and providing humanitarian and disaster relief,” Powles said.
“The agreement also contains several ambiguous and potentially ambitious provisions with geopolitical implications including that China is seeking logistical supply capabilities and material assets located in Solomon Islands to support ship visits.”
Powles said the agreement suggests logistics and supplies will be available in the Solomons to support the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
“If it comes under force, the agreement also contains references to China’s ‘own needs’, which could refer to China’s strategic interests; China’s pursuit of its strategic interests in the Pacific is of direct concern to Australia and its allies and partners.”
Australia also sent troops and federal police to the Solomon Islands after a request for assistance from its Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, in November. The request was made under a 2017 treaty between Australia and Solomon Islands to request help from Australian armed forces and the Australian Federal Police in the event of civil unrest, but that agreement would be put under a cloud if the deal with Beijing goes through.
Solomon’s opposition MP Peter Kenilorea told the ABC he was deeply concerned by the development. “This has implications for the Pacific islands region, including Australia,” he said.
China has been courting Pacific island nations to establish a military presence in the area, but the Solomons deal would be the first time the Chinese navy has an operational presence in the region beyond the South China Sea.
In 2018 China approached Vanuatu about building a permanent military presence in the South Pacific, triggering urgent discussions at the highest levels in Canberra and Washington. Thursday afternoon’s draft document, first released by a Solomons’ opposition adviser, sent officials in Canberra scrambling to verify its authenticity. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age confirmed on Thursday evening that the Australian government believes the document is genuine, deepening concerns about China’s intentions in the Pacific.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton were contacted for comment.
The base will increase the risk of confrontation between the US and China as Beijing ramps up its competition with Washington, threatens Taiwan’s airspace and refuses to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Chinese embassy in Canberra was contacted for comment.