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25/04/2022 | Australian spies helped expose secret pact between China and Solomon Islands

Joseph Fitsanakis

AUSTRALIAN INTELLIGENCE HAD A role in the mysterious disclosure of a secret memorandum about a controversial defense pact between China and the Solomon Islands, which is causing consternation in the West.

 

Western leaders claim that the pact will turn the tiny Melanesian nation into a logistical hub for Chinese warships in a strategic region of the Pacific Ocean. The pact also stipulates a training role for Chinese police and military personnel, who are called to “assist […] in maintaining social order” in the island nation.

The Solomon Islands is an archipelago consisting of nearly 1,000 islands of various sizes in an area northwest of Vanuatu and east of Papua New Guinea. It gained its independence from Britain in the mid-1970s. Australia has historically provided security for this island nation of 700,000 inhabitants, which has no standing military. However, China has become a dominant player in Solomon Islands politics in recent years. In 2019, the government of the island nation abruptly withdrew its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and aligned itself with Beijing.

The move sparked concerns in Malaita, the Solomons’ largest island, which is home to a sizeable Chinese community. There were demonstrations against Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in the capital of the Solomon Islands, Honiara (pictured). Eventually, the demonstrators attempted to storm the Parliament and depose Sogavare’s administration by force. There were also attacks on Chinese-owned businesses in the capital, as well as on a number of police stations, which were set on fire. Eventually, Australian, New Zealander, Papuan and Fijian troops restored order in downtown Honiara.

In late March, the text of a defense pact between the Solomon Islands and China appeared online. The pact centers on law enforcement and military cooperation, involving training programs and joint exercises between the two nations. Some Western nations, including New Zealand, Australia and the United States, are concerned about the possibility that China could use the agreement to build a military base in the Solomon Islands. The island nation is strategically located near Australia and New Zealand, as well as near the island of Guam, which hosts a large American military base.

On Sunday, several Australian newspapers, including The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reported that intelligence agencies in Australia were aware of plans by the governments of China and the Solomon Islands to sign the pact. According to “[m]ultiple government and security sources”, Australian spies had known about the pact “for months”. In March, they decided to “encourage a leak from within the Solomons” in an effort to sabotage the planned deal. According to reports, the hope was that the revelation would “build domestic and international pressure to get the Solomons to change course”.

It appears, however, that the leak of the secret document was not sufficient to dissuade the government of the Solomon Islands to back away from the agreement. Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare eventually signed the agreement with China, arguing that it would “improve the quality of lives” of his people and would “address soft and hard security threats facing the country”.

Intelnews.org (Estados Unidos)

 



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