Today's edition of the Current Affairs Dialog box comprises a discussion on the Solomon Islands. Read further to enhance your UPSC exam Preparation and ace UPSC Prelims 2022.
Check out the topic's relevance to the CSE syllabus below:
For Prelims: Location of Solomon Island, AUKUS, Boe Declaration.
For Mains: Security agreement between China and Solomon Island and its Geopolitical Configuration in the region.
Click here to read yesterday's edition of the Current Affairs Dialog box.
Why in the News?
Recently, China and the Solomon Islands have signed an inter-governmental framework agreement on security cooperation.
China put into use its first overseas military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa in 2017.
Image Source: World Atlas
The geopolitics of the region is undergoing an unprecedented flux in tandem with the larger shifts in the Indo-Pacific. Comment
About the Pact
A text of the pact has not been released.
The leaked draft has suggested that it would allow Chinese warships to stop in the Solomons, and Chinese police to be deployed at the archipelago’s request to maintain “social order”.
Neither party would be allowed to disclose the missions publicly without the written consent of the other.
The agreement seeks to enhance "social stability and long-term tranquillity in the Solomon Islands”.
The two sides will conduct cooperation in such areas as maintenance of social order, protection of the safety of people's lives and property, humanitarian assistance and natural disaster response, in an effort to help the Solomon Islands strengthen capacity building in safeguarding its own security.
About the Solomon Islands:
The Solomon Islands is part of the ethnically Melanesian group of islands in the Pacific and lies between Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.
The Island has a population of less than 700,000.
The islands, which were initially controlled by the British Empire during the colonial era, went through the hands of Germany and Japan and then back to the U.K. after the Americans took over the islands from the Japanese during World War II.
The islands became independent in 1978 to become a constitutional monarchy under the British Crown, with a parliamentary system of government.
Concerns Raised by other Countries
Australia, which has had a security agreement with Solomon since 2017, has been the most vocal critic of the agreement.
Australia was “deeply disappointed” and “concerned about the lack of transparency with which this agreement has been developed, noting its potential to undermine stability in our region”.
Other countries including the US and New Zealand, have also voiced concern.
The US has already announced its plans to reopen its embassy in Honiara (Solomon Capital), which has been closed since 1993.
The US State Department pointed out that the agreement could stir up instability in the Solomon Islands and "set a concerning precedent for the wider Pacific Island region."
China’s increased military activity and influence in the Indo-Pacific could destabilize the region as the island could also be used as a stopover for China’s troops for tactical replenishments.
There have been speculations in the wake of this revelation that China might be building its next overseas naval base in the Solomon Islands after Djibouti, which was also incidentally referred to as a logistics support base.
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Reason for China’s Interest in the Solomon Islands
Taiwan's Role: The Pacific islands are among the few regions in the world where China has competition from Taiwan for diplomatic recognition.
Any country which has to officially establish relations with China will have to break diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
The Solomon Islands was one among the six Pacific Island states which had official bilateral relations with Taiwan.
However, in 2019, the Solomon Islands, along with Kiribati, switched allegiance to China.
Potential Vote Bank: The small Pacific Island states act as potential vote banks for mobilizing support for the great powers in international fora like the United Nations.
Significant Reserve: These ‘small island states’ are also seen as ‘big ocean states’. The Solomon Islands, in particular, have significant reserves of timber and mineral resources, along with fisheries.
Strategic Location: Solomon Island is strategically located for China to insert itself between America’s military bases in the Pacific islands and Australia.
This is especially significant in the current scenario, given the emergence of the AUKUS (Australia, the U.K. and the U.S.) which seeks to elevate Australia’s strategic capabilities vis-à-vis China through Anglo-American cooperation.
Solomon’s Export Destination: China is already the Solomon Islands’ top export destination, buying some 65 per cent of Solomon’s exports in 2019.
Australia is the destination of less than 1 percent of Solomons’ exports.
What does this mean for the Established Geopolitical Configuration in the Region?
The Pacific islands, in the post-World War II scenario, were exclusively under the spheres of influence of the Western powers, in particular, the U.S., U.K., France and the regional heavyweights, Australia and New Zealand.
The smaller island nations of the region are heavily dependent on them, especially Australia as it is a resident power.
This established power structure in the region is being increasingly challenged by China through the steady displacement of Taiwan and the cultivation of economic and political clout.
All western powers have reacted strongly. Australia, the regional great power has reacted with boosted finances, and by extending its current security mission in the islands.
The U.S. has responded by considering reopening its embassy in Honiara after a long 29-year gap.
China’s political clout in the region will be heavily opposed both domestically (Honiara riots) and internationally (AUKUS).
The geopolitics of the region is undergoing an unprecedented flux in tandem with the larger shifts in the Indo-Pacific, suggesting an intensification of regional great power rivalry and domestic volatility for the Pacific Island states in the coming years.
Impact on India
There is no direct or immediate effect on India as the Solomon Islands are a significant distance from mainland India.
However, China’s advances in the Pacific region will be a cause of concern for India.