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THE SOLOMON ISLANDS REFUSAL OF US COAST GUARD CUTTER TO MAKE ROUTINE PORT CALL

Alison Ward, Julia Pereira, PACOM

Manja Vitasovic, Senior Editor

September 5, 2022


US Coast Guard Cutter[1]


Geographical Area | Solomon Islands, South Pacific

Countries Affected | Solomon Islands, China, US, Australia, New Zealand

The Solomon Islands government has refused a US Coast Guard cutter routine port call, denying ships refueling a request.[2] The Solomon Islands' actions are likely related to the nation’s realignment with China, embodied in a recently signed security pact. The pact allows China to expand its economic, political, and military influence in the South Pacific region by increasing trade and enabling military personnel to be stationed on the Solomon Islands.[3] Deterioration of US-China relations has caused President Xi Jinping to strengthen relations with South Pacific islands to contest the US and allies’ presence and influence. The US fears a Chinese military buildup on the islands, as it would threaten US naval bases in Guam and the security of regional allies, such as Australia and New Zealand.[4]



Areas of High-Security Concern: US, Australia, and New Zealand consider China's interests in Pacific islands a threat. The Solomon Islands-China Security Pact will very likely cause the militarization of the Pacific and will almost certainly allow China to grow its influence in the Solomon Islands’ decision-making. The pact will very likely favor the greater military and economic cooperation and likely facilitate diplomatic agreements and infrastructure investments. The early success of the pact is likely due to the Solomon Islands’ interest in economic benefits like disaster assistance, trade, and investments in technology and infrastructure. The pact will very likely allow China to better contest the US presence in the South Pacific, very likely promoting its strategy to gain influence over the Pacific region through the affirmation and solidifying of relations with other Pacific islands.

Current Claims: US; Solomon Islands; China

Groups Involved in Conflict: Solomon Islands government; US Coast Guard (USCG); US government; People’s Republic of China (PRC); Chinese Communist Party (CCP); President Xi Jinping

Current Conflicts: The China-Solomon Islands Security Pact has allowed China to establish its influence and secure and expand its economic investments within the country, while the US views the pact as a means for China’s expansion and militarization in the Pacific. The Solomon Islands refused to cooperate with the US, favoring China as it expands its Pacific engagement and reasserts the One-China Policy, which states that the PRC is the legitimate government of Taiwan. China’s increasing presence and military expansion in the South Pacific will deepen the tensions between China and the US.[5]

Major Capital Industries: defense industry; trade industry; fishing industry; cyber industry

Potential Industry Concerns: China’s military expansion in the South Pacific will very likely cause the US and its regional allies, especially Australia, to recalculate their security strategies. There is a roughly even chance that China will again attempt to establish a military base on the Solomon Islands, likely posing a threat to Australia’s, New Zealand’s, and the US’s security. A military buildup in the Solomon Islands will almost certainly endanger the lines of communication and sea routes between Australia and US bases, like Guam. There is a roughly even chance that the pact will deteriorate the import-export relations with Australia, very likely favoring China’s goods like machinery, technology, and skilled labor. China will very likely increase aid, trade, and commercial activity in the South Pacific to replicate the success of its Solomon Islands strategy, especially through military bases and economic investments in mining, fishery expansions, and cybersecurity.


Areas of Caution:

  • Geopolitical: The China-Solomon Islands Security Pact heightened geopolitical tensions in the South Pacific due to China’s efforts to strengthen ties with Pacific island countries. A Chinese military buildup in the Solomon Islands and throughout the South Pacific will give China an advantage over its adversaries, creating an obstacle for Australia’s travel routes to Guam due to the potential for China to close traditional direct routes through military force, delaying emergency response times and isolating Australia's military. China’s efforts to build security alliances with countries in the region, like Tonga, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands, will help it to counter the US military presence in the South Pacific. The Solomon Islands’ refusal to allow the USCG cutter to port escalates US-China tensions over the Pacific and the US needs to gain and retain allies in the region. The US has expressed concerns over the China-Solomon Islands Security Pact, because it allows China to send military forces to the Solomon Islands to protect Chinese personnel and major infrastructure projects, allowing China to establish a military base.[6]

  • Political: In May 2022, China drafted a security agreement involving 10 Pacific countries, focusing on increasing regional trade and security. The agreement stipulates that the countries abide by the One-China Policy, which considers Taiwan part of China. China’s interest in South Pacific island countries, particularly the Solomon Islands, expands the CCP’s influence over regional leaders. Pacific islands allied with the US, like Micronesia, have stated that they will not endorse the agreement, expressing concerns that it will allow China to control communication infrastructures, posing a threat to privacy and security in the region.[7] The 2017 Australian White Paper implies security concerns over China’s ability to access data communication, discussing the risk of vulnerabilities to cyber-attacks.[8] China’s strengthened South Pacific relations threaten the US and its regional allies' geopolitical stability in the region.

  • Economic: Following the Solomon Islands' 2019 recognition of the PRC as the legitimate Chinese government, China has become an important trade partner for the Solomon Islands. China has expressed interest in the Solomon Islands’ major industries, including fisheries, aquaculture, and harbor construction. The fishery industry has grown rapidly, prompting Chinese enterprises to invest. China has also expressed interest in investing in infrastructure projects as part of the One Belt One Road Initiative, as the Solomon Islands is a strategic location for an air freight hub along the Air Silk Road.[9] China’s Pacific strategy will promote economic, military, and political benefits by deepening bilateral relations with the Pacific States, granting China greater influence over the Pacific, and likely promoting economic projects for Chinese companies. The Solomon Islands will further develop relations with China due to the comparative economic and political advantages of the relationship compared to its traditional partners like Australia, New Zealand, and the US.[10]

  • Social: The current relationship between Solomon Islands residents and the government is strained due to the postponement of elections. The popularity of agreements with China among the Solomon Islands’ population is deteriorating as the relationship becomes formalized, and Chinese markets, products, and projects saturate the domestic market.[11] Some Island residents are concerned about the country becoming more economically, diplomatically, and politically dependent on China. The entrenchment of Chinese state-owned enterprises is stimulating the economy, but these conditions encourage Chinese migrant workers to the Solomon Islands, taking employment opportunities from the residents. This can increase local tensions, sparking protests and encouraging China to intervene, as enabled by the pact.[12]

Predictive Analysis: The Solomon Islands is unlikely to allow the US to conduct routine port calls moving forward, likely causing concern for the US over China’s expanded regional influence. China will very likely increase its military, economic, and political presence in the South Pacific, likely posing a threat to the US and its allies, like Australia and New Zealand.

  • Who: US ships will almost certainly be unable to conduct routine port calls on the Solomon Islands, likely due to the pact with China, which is likely perceived as more valuable than a relationship with the US. China will likely gain a political, economic, and military advantage in the region, likely driven by its comprehensive policy of partnerships with Pacific islands. China-Solomon Islands relations likely threaten the US interests due to the proximity of its military bases in Guam and Australia.

  • What: China will very likely continue to strengthen diplomatic ties with Pacific islands by providing economic benefits, like free trade, likely to reinforce the regional commitment to the One-China Policy, and likely to realign Pacific countries to China’s international foreign policy against Taiwan. The US, Australia, and New Zealand will likely have to engage with other Pacific islands to counter Chinese military expansion. There is a roughly even chance of military escalation between the US and China if China continues to expand its military presence.

  • Why: China is very likely seeking military, political, and economic agreements with other Pacific islands as part of a strategy of expanded control over the Pacific and gathering regional support for China’s foreign policies. The Chinese government is almost certainly trying to compete against the US and Australia on these fronts, very likely to reduce their influence in the region. The Chinese government will very likely use the Solomon Islands to demonstrate the benefits of cooperation, likely to attract other Pacific islands.

  • When: China will very likely attempt to be more active in the region, likely to compete against the US and its regional allies. This will very likely lead the US and Australia to oppose the Solomon Islands’ pact with China, likely attempting to persuade the islands to return to their traditional partners. China will very likely seek to reinforce and extend the pact and will very likely replicate such agreements with other islands, likely to extend its influence in the Pacific.

  • How: China will very likely attempt to perpetuate the pact by establishing an air freight hub along the Air Silk Road, very likely integrating the country with the broader Belt and Road Initiative, and likely bringing development and economic improvements to the Solomon Islands. The Chinese government will very likely propose infrastructure projects and introduce Chinese enterprises, likely causing a surge in employment. These conditions will very likely allow the Solomon Islands to increase the production and sale of their local products.

The PACOM Team recommends that Agencies, Organizations, and Companies (AOCs) continue observing China’s activity in the Solomon Islands and throughout the South Pacific region. AOCs should monitor China’s efforts to strengthen ties in the region to prepare for deteriorating relations between the US and China. AOCs should also beware of the sensitive operating landscape, avoiding tension escalations with the US. The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) works to detect, deter, and defeat terrorism and will continue monitoring the situation for future developments in US-Solomon Islands relations and China-Solomon Islands relations. CTG’s (W.A.T.C.H) Officers will monitor the development of China-Solomon Islands relations and will provide updates on events in the region.

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[1]“USCGC Knight island” by Rnendza licenced under Wikimedia Commons

[2] Solomon Islands refuses to allow U.S. ship to make port call, Japan Times, August 2022 https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/08/27/asia-pacific/solomon-islands-us-coast-guard-refusal/

[3]China wants 10 small Pacific nations to sign on to "game-changing" security agreement, CNBC, May 2022

https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/26/china-wants-10-pacific-nations-to-endorse-sweeping-agreement.html

[4] China-Solomon Islands Pact Leaves U.S. Worried About the Pacific, Newsweek, April 2022 https://www.newsweek.com/china-solomon-islands-us-pacific-military-1700929

[5] What the China-Solomon Islands Pact Means for the U.S. and South Pacific, Council on Foreign Relations, May 2022

https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/china-solomon-islands-security-pact-us-south-pacific

[6] Ibid

[7]China wants 10 small Pacific nations to sign on to "game-changing" security agreement, CNBC, May 2022

https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/26/china-wants-10-pacific-nations-to-endorse-sweeping-agreement.html

[8] 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, Commonwealth of Australia, November 2017

https://www.dfat.gov.au/sites/default/files/2017-foreign-policy-white-paper.pdf

[9] What the China-Solomon Islands Pact Means for the U.S. and South Pacific, Council on Foreign Relations, May 2022

https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/china-solomon-islands-security-pact-us-south-pacific

[10] Perceiving China’s Influence in the Pacific: The Case of Solomon Islands, The DIplomat, October 2019

https://thediplomat.com/2019/10/perceiving-chinas-influence-in-the-pacific-the-case-of-solomon-islands/

[11] Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare's government wants to delay election due to Pacific Games, ABC, August 2022

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-08-09/solomon-islands-government-seeks-to-delay-election/101315836

[12] What Do China and Solomon Islands Get From Their Security Pact?, The Diplomat, May 2022

https://thediplomat.com/2022/05/what-do-china-and-solomon-islands-get-from-their-security-pact/

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