21 May 2022
A new five-year security agreement between China and Solomon Islands, signed in late April, has been met with apprehension and anger by Western imperialist leaders, who were already ramping up tensions in the Pacific region. The accord permits Chinese ships to use Solomon Islands as a logistical stop and allows Beijing to post soldiers and police in the country “to protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in Solomon Islands.”
Following the leak of a draft version of the deal in late February, Western imperialist powers with direct interests in the Pacific—including the United States, Australia and New Zealand—were quick to declare it a security threat. Their hostility to the agreement, and toward Solomon Islands’ rapprochement with the Chinese deformed workers’ state more generally, derives from their desire to encircle China and overturn the remaining gains of the 1949 Revolution.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the agreement “a reminder of the constant pressure and threats … to our own national security.” Minister for Defense Peter Dutton was even more blunt, describing the specter of a permanent Chinese naval base as a “red line” for the Australian government and warning that “likelihood of a conflict … is more and more real every day because of the outreach of China.” Plagiarizing George Orwell, Dutton told Australians that “the only way you can preserve peace is to prepare for war and be strong as a country,” comparing China to Nazi Germany for good measure. Not to be outdone, opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese decried Australia’s “lack of presence” and “failure to engage” in the Pacific, while former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd accused Morrison’s Liberal–National government of having taken “its eye off the ball” and creating a “strategic vacuum” for China to step into.
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the pact as “militarization of the region” and “gravely concerning.” Multiple corporate news outlets have run a think piece from prominent New Zealand anti-China “expert” Anne-Marie Brady that calls Solomon sovereignty a “sacred cow” to send “to the chopping block”—just shy of an overt cry for regime change.
In an interview with ABC News, US Pacific Fleet commander Samuel Paparo echoed Morrison and Ardern, calling the agreement “a concern for all of our partners throughout the western Pacific and notably Australia and New Zealand.” Meanwhile, a US delegation to Solomon Islands threatened that, if the country were to allow China to establish a permanent base, “the United States would then have significant concerns and respond accordingly.”
Australia and New Zealand have long been accustomed to viewing the Pacific as their neocolonial backyard. One of the poorest Pacific countries, Solomon Islands has historically been a particular target for its near neighbor Australia. Canberra is the largest contributor of foreign aid to the islands, while the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reports Australian exports to Solomon Islands in 2019–20 totaled AU$101 million. Australia also exploits cheap Solomon Islander labor through various migrant worker schemes, a common arrangement between Australia (and New Zealand) and the underdeveloped Pacific states.
Australian-based companies have at times controlled vast sectors of the Solomon economy, including the logging and palm oil industries (now largely taken over by south-east Asian companies) and the mining sector (where they retain a significant presence). The Gold Ridge Mine, which at its height contributed 20 percent of Solomon Islands’ GDP, was operated by a succession of Australian companies until 2014. The latest of these, St. Barbara Limited, only ceased operations after flash floods left the mine in a state of extreme disrepair and it was forced to sell to local landowners.
Australia and New Zealand’s presence in the islands is more than simply economic. In 2003, following a period of ethnic conflict, the armed forces of the two countries played a leading role in the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), a multi-national military and police “peacekeeping” operation initially supported by the Solomon Islands’ government to help maintain order. In 2007 Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was forced out of office by a no-confidence vote after he accused RAMSI of running a parallel administration in the islands and the Australian government of undermining the country’s sovereignty. While RAMSI troops withdrew in 2013, imperialist security interests in Solomon Islands have continued.
Australia and the United States’ stance toward China in recent years has been characterized by bellicose chest-thumping, but New Zealand’s posture has at times been more conciliatory. Both Labour and the opposition National Party support a free trade deal with China, New Zealand’s top trading partner, that was renewed and upgraded only last year. Wellington offered to act as a third party in the Australia-China trade dispute and expressed discomfort with the prospect of expanding the Five Eyes intelligence network despised by Beijing.
On the other hand, when it suits, the Labour Party can be strategically anti-China at home—such as its 2017 “whipping up anti-Chinese hysteria and pinning New Zealand’s housing crisis on offshore property speculators” (“Jacinda Ardern—No Friend to Workers and Oppressed”). Labour’s recent reproach to China over the Solomon Islands agreement reflects growing pressure on Wellington to get in line with increasing polarization in the Pacific. Ardern’s handwringing about militarization is a perfect example of Western hypocrisy in relation to China and the Pacific. The Pacific Ocean is studded with imperialist military bases and hardware, all pointed squarely at the Chinese deformed workers’ state. The United States has bases in Guam, Wake Island, the Philippines, Marshall Islands and Australia (not to mention its sizable garrisons in Japan and South Korea), and recently announced plans to build new military facilities in Palau. France has bases in its Pacific colonies of New Caledonia and French Polynesia. Australia, with assistance from the United States, is planning to re-establish its old military base on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (a government-funded military think tank) even recommended, in response to the leaked deal, that Australia build a naval base in Solomon Islands purely to keep the Chinese out. In 2020, major US-Taiwan military exercises took place on China’s doorstep, while this year American, British, Australian and New Zealand forces conducted war games in neighboring Malaysia and the Philippines. The AUKUS pact between Australia, Britain and the US announced last year is primarily designed to contain China in the Indo-Pacific region. As well as supplying Australia with nuclear submarines, it was expanded in April to include joint hypersonic missile development.
Solomon Islands was for a long time one of a handful of countries that recognized Taiwan as the legitimate government of China and received backing and aid from both Taipei and Washington. After being in and out of office several times, Sogavare was re-elected in 2019 and pivoted to Beijing, officially recognizing the People’s Republic in return for offers of Chinese aid and investment, including a US$825 million deal to improve infrastructure around Gold Ridge Mine. The realignment triggered an immediate backlash from the West, but also internally, particularly in the Solomons’ most populous island, Malaita.
The relationship between Malaita and Guadalcanal, the country’s largest island and home of the capital, Honiara, has long been tense and punctuated with violence. Relative poverty saw many Malaitans travel to Guadalcanal for greater economic opportunities in the 1980s and 1990s, but their presence aroused resentment among native Guadalcanal islanders (known as Guales), who saw the newcomers as overrepresented in government and driving locals off their lands. In 1999, tensions between the two groups boiled over into civil war between ethnic militias, a conflict that at its height saw the militant Malaita Eagle Force take over Honiara, kidnap then-prime minister Bartholomew Ulufa’alu and force his resignation. While the bulk of the militias agreed to lay down their arms in peace accords signed in late 2000 and early 2001, some Guale militants continued fighting for years thereafter, and divisions remain.
Relations between Malaita and Honiara have become particularly acrimonious following the pivot to China, with Malaita’s premier, Daniel Suidani, serving as the focal point of opposition to the alliance with Beijing. Suidani outlawed Chinese businesses in Malaita, citing the islanders’ “entrenched Christian faith” and denouncing “systems based on atheist ideology.” Malaita continues to maintain relations and receive aid from Taipei, and Premier Suidani now advocates Malaita’s secession from Solomon Islands.
The imperialists have seized on these internal divisions as a golden opportunity to counter China’s influence in the region and have been openly fanning the flames of discontent. In October 2020, the United States pledged US$25 million in aid to Malaita, roughly 50 times the amount the province received in 2018 from all foreign countries combined. The financial assistance is part of more than US$200 million sent by US imperialism to the strategically important Indo-Pacific region under its 2020 Pacific Pledge, a key component of its strategy for asserting hegemony in the region. This is on top of the approximately US$350 million a year the US already spends on “projects, assistance, and operations to build a more prosperous future for people in the Pacific Island region” (“U.S. Engagement in the Pacific Islands: 2020 Pacific Pledge,” US Department of State, 1 October 2020).
Events came to a head late last year when supporters of Malaita for Democracy, an independence movement patronized by Suidani, traveled to Honiara for a three-day riot that saw three people killed and much of Honiara’s Chinatown leveled. It is all but certain the Western powers will make further attempts to foment unrest and destabilize the country.
The internal tensions in Solomon Islands are deeper and older than the current crisis, stemming from decades of poverty and imperialist plunder. Cynical attempts by the imperialists to weaponize hostilities against China have only made them more acute. Questions of autonomy, federalism or independence for the various islands and ethnic groups in the country are for Solomon Islanders themselves to decide, not for imperialist powers to exploit.
Marxists give no political support to the Sogavare government, which is an enemy of the working class and incapable of addressing the grinding poverty endured by most Solomon Islanders. Yet we recognize the sovereignty of the country and defend its right to enter into a pact with China without Western powers interfering—and we would side militarily with China and the neocolonial Solomon Islands in the event either is attacked by the imperialists. Marxists call for the imperialists out of Solomon Islands and for the removal of all imperialist military bases across the Pacific.
While Marxists unambiguously defend the Chinese deformed workers’ state against attempts at capitalist counterrevolution, both externally and internally, we also assert the necessity of proletarian political revolution to oust the CCP bureaucracy and institute workers’ democracy. Ultimately, only international socialist revolution and the creation of a Socialist Federation of Oceania can secure the conditions for improving the lives of ordinary people and removing the threat of imperialist meddling in the region.
Provoking China: Imperialists out of the South China Sea! (1917 No.43)
Defend China against Pro-Imperialist ‘Democracy’ Campaign! (1917 No.42)
Whither China? (1917 No.31)
Jacinda Ardern—No Friend to Workers and Oppressed (1917 No.43)