Chinese officials are racing to strike a maritime economic agreement with the Solomon Islands following the signing of a security pact that Western officials suspect will give the communist regime’s navy a foothold in the Pacific islands.

“China welcomes the Solomon Islands to take a ride on China’s economic development express and strengthen cooperation in economy, trade and other fields,” a Chinese Embassy spokesman in Honiara said Wednesday. “Some people are indifferent to the real challenges and development needs of the Pacific island countries such as the Solomon Islands, but are keen to dictate the normal exchanges and cooperation between China and the islands, obviously with ulterior motives.”

That statement, an implicit jab at Australian officials, followed the leak of a draft plan for “deepening blue economy cooperation” between Beijing and the island nation through joint initiatives to “establish marine economic cooperation parks and deep-sea fishing bases.” That leaked proposal aligned with the misgivings of U.S. and Australian officials, who suspect that China aspires to acquire a naval base that would empower their military to cut the supply lines between Hawaii and Australia.


"We're very aware of what the Chinese government's ambitions are in the Pacific, whether it be in relation to facilities such as that or naval bases or other presence of their military in the Pacific," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Monday. “I am very concerned, as many other Pacific leaders are, about the interference and intrusion of the Chinese government into these types of arrangements.”

The new security deal has touched off a furor in the islands and around the region despite Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s insistence that the embrace of China is a prudent and benign step.

"There is nothing sinister nor trivial about the Blue Economy Memorandum of Understanding,” Sogavare’s office said Wednesday in an apparent confirmation of the leak. “The MOU is still in its draft form. ... However, its underlying objective is to tap on potential economic investment opportunities relating to ocean resources.”

A senior member of the National Parliament of Solomon Islands has denounced the initiative, predicting that Chinese officials will initiate “a lot of movement very soon” in the islands in order to entrench themselves in the region.

“Be they so-called investments, interests from mining companies from China, fisheries, telecommunications and as well as aviation,” Foreign Relations Chairman Peter Kenilorea, an opposition leader, argued in a parliamentary address last week. “So it’s a cycle that will continue to keep us entrapped and dependent. The dependency factor is something I’m very, very concerned about in terms of what we’ve gotten ourselves into.”

The Solomon Islands figured most dramatically in American history during World War II, when the U.S. victory in the Battle of Guadalcanal turned the tide of the conflict in the Pacific theater. The significance of that battle reflected geographic factors that remain relevant, as in that fight, American forces scrambled to prevent Imperial Japan from gaining a base that would allow them to choke off Australia and threaten U.S. access to the region.


“The rumor that China will build a military base in Solomon Islands is pure disinformation fabricated by a few individuals with ulterior motives,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Wednesday.