China’s island shopping in the South Pacific
Solomon Islander government contests island lease to China . . .
The Solomon Islander government is contesting a deal signed between a Chinese company and a provincial government to lease the entire island of Tulagi, which the province quietly concluded in September. The lease agreement, now ruled illegal by the attorney general on the grounds that it lacks vital details, including timelines, and encroaches on the powers of the national government, had shocked residents in the Solomon Islands and alarmed many in Australia and the United States. Both Australia and the U.S. have vested interests in the South Pacific’s sea trade routes and see the region as crucial to keeping China’s ambitions in check.
An increasing Chinese presence . . .
Besides strategic interests in the region, China’s economic influence in the South Pacific has increased significantly in the last few years, raising concerns that China is lending vast amounts of money to Pacific island countries and intentionally pushing them into debt in order to extract geopolitical concessions. However, a recent report on the topic argues there is no evidence of ‘debt-trap diplomacy,’ while acknowledging that China’s lending in the South Pacific “presents an important risk to future debt sustainability in the Pacific.”
Rivalry in the South Pacific will continue . . .
Although the lease of the island of Tulagi to a Chinese company has now been deemed unlawful, China’s push in the region and the increasing rivalry it is causing with the West will not end here. The New York Times reports that five MOUs between Solomon Islander and Chinese entities signed since the island nation cut its ties with Taiwan in September deserve scrutiny. Most Pacific island countries do not want to get caught in the middle of geostrategic competition between the U.S. and China, as both sides can bring positive investments and impacts to these small nations.
- The New York Times: Chinese Lease of Entire Island Is Deemed Illegal in Solomons
- The Economist: A Chinese firm may or may not be leasing one of the Solomon Islands
- South China Morning Post: China expected to ramp up South Pacific push at economic forum in Samoa