The Solomon Islands Crisis

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryBefore I say anything else, I should explain where the Solomon Islands are. They are in the southwest Pacific Ocean close to Papua New Guinea and Australia. The people themselves are a combination of Papuans, Austronesians and Polynesians. The official language is English, but Melanesian and Polynesian languages are widely spoken throughout the islands. The Solomon Islands are part of the British Commonwealth, so the official head of state is Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. The current prime minister for the Solomon Islands is Manasseh Sogavare, and for the most part the closest country that the Solomon Islands has in terms of diplomatic relations, economic trade, and bilateral agreements with is Australia. Under normal circumstances, the Solomon Islands should not be a controversial subject.

However, one important event has occurred that could change the balance of power in the Pacific region and impact both the United States and Australia. This event is the Solomon Islands breaking diplomatic relations with Taiwan and officially recognizing China. Before that, the Solomon Islands had diplomatic relations with Taiwan and this meant that the Solomon Islands remained of no particular importance in the balance of power. Now, with the Solomon Islands officially recognizing China, this means that billions of dollars in Chinese private investments, Chinese government infrastructural projects, and even military projects could be brought into the Solomon Islands as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative to economically and politically dominate that island country. We have seen the Chinese government do exactly this to other countries in Central Asia, the Middle East and now parts of Europe—give them so much money under very unreasonable terms, and then when these countries “violate” those terms or cannot pay back the loans and investments then they have fallen into what has become known as the “China debt trap.” The debt trap is when a country cannot pay back China or cannot abide by China’s terms then the Chinese government can demand something in return. In the case, for example, of Sri Lanka, when they could not repay the Chinese government, the Sri Lankan government was forced to give China the port of Hambantota. This port is now being used by China for not only large scale commercial shipping but also for its military vessels including China’s attack submarines.

This brings me to the Solomon Islands. There is no question in my mind that the Solomon Islands government is corrupt as all get-out. This government wants China to give it billions of dollars for all kinds of government and private projects—projects that will put the Solomon Islands into China’s debt trap. And when that occurs, then the Chinese government can demand whatever it wants. And demand it will. The Chinese government will demand most likely the Solomon Islands deep water ports like the Port of Honiara or the Port of Noro. The Chinese military can then move in their battleships and even supersonic aircraft. Since the Solomon Islands are too close to Australia and 3,566 miles from Hawaii, any Chinese military presence in the open Pacific Ocean is a direct threat to Hawaii. This means that if China puts supersonic bombers on the Solomon Islands then they can hit Hawaii in only a matter of minutes; not much warning. Also, by using the Solomon Islands as a military base of operations the Chinese military can directly threaten Hawaii and parts of the U.S. mainland more easily. This is something Americans as well as Australians should consider in the not-so-distant future.

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