The Solomon Islands is a constitutional monarchy under the British Monarch located in the South Pacific Ocean. Last year the small country. consisting of six islands in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, was embroiled in violent protests and riots.
In 2019, the Central Government of the Solomon Islands had withdrawn its recognition from Taiwan, but the economy of the Province of Malaita was still supported by Taiwan as well as by the U.S.. Last November protests started off peacefully against the Central Government’s derecognition of Taiwan and recognition of China as one nation. However, they soon escalated and turned into violent riots when members of a group called ‘Malaita for Democracy’ tried to storm the Parliament and the police retaliated with tear gas. Many houses in Chinatown were burned and it was reported by the police that charred bodies were found in one of the burnt buildings. The situation became so severe that the central government had to request for external help, and Australia, Papa New Guinea and Fiji sent troops and peacekeeping forces. The government even appealed to China for support, receiving protective gear for local security forces including batons, helmets and shields.
Bejing had steadily become the Solomon Island’s largest trading partner before officially establishing diplomatic relations in 2019. However, China now has much greater ambitions as it intends establishing military bases on the islands. Details of a draft security arrangement between the two countries were recently leaked to the public, wherein Chinese warships could make a stop at the Solomon Islands for logistics and replenishment purposes and, in turn, provide personnel to maintain law and order. The leak raised alarm around the world, in particular in New Zealand, Australia and the US, which went on high alert.
Although both China and the Solomon Islands denied the establishment of a military base, the businessman behind this deal had once tried to buy an entire island for China. Some three years ago Xu Changyu, on behalf of State company China Sam Enterprise, which produces weapons, tried to broker a deal to lease the island of Tulagi for 75 years, securing exclusive development rights. The deal shocked the residents and sent alarm bells ringing, claiming that it is hard to believe that Chinese lease the whole island without turning it into a military base, changing de facto the status and role of the small island.
China has been criticized of establishing economic colonies by luring poor countries with easy loans and huge investments in infrastructure and trade on the condition of severing ties with Taiwan and recognizing Beijing. In this specific case, it has been alleged that the infrastructure was being constructed for using it for both civilian and military purposes. It has also been alleged that China is influencing local elections by buying-off local politicians with bribes, expensive gifts and luxury trips, thus paving the way for what many fear is a debt-trap of which China will take advantage.
China’s role is big and relevant not only in the infrastructure and construction sector in these islands, but also in key service sectors such as telecommunication and seaport projects, of which then later claims control. Under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to revive the Silk Road, China is constructing and has completed a number of infrastructural projects, including seaports, roads and railways in Mongolia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with the further goal of providing telecommunication services and transport logistics as well as establish factories along the route.
After Xi Jinping came to power, there has been a clear move to bring Chinese society and the economy under State control. Under Xi Jinping’s ruling, state-owned businessese have been directed to align their activities more strictly with the foreign policy. Civilian enterprises, academic institutions and commercial research and development departments have been authorised for classified military R&D, including production of weapons. Besides this, China is also heavily investing in private industries and diverting operations for developing military technology. The Solomon-Islands situation is only the last case in point of the aforementioned policy.