Words and Art by Kelvin Kelo Neleta
The geopolitical competition between the US and China in the Solomon Islands has become a political risk for us, our neighbouring countries and the entire surrounding Pacific Islands region. We have all known this since the day the Solomon Islands gained its independence from the British coloniser’s protectorate after WWII. Since independence, the world has seen our country become a crippled nation, even labelled as one of the poorest countries in the Pacific. Yet, despite our relative poverty, the world’s major powers have had an interest in the Solomon Islands and have been competing for favourable decision making by our government.
This international competition once happened before. Now it returns. During the Cold War, there were worries about the Soviet Union working closely with the South Pacific Region and signing a fishing treaty. This prompted a quick response from the US which opened an embassy in the Solomon Islands. As time went on, the embassy faded out from the country. Now that Beijing signed a National Security Agreement with the Sogavare Government, the media revealed that the US reopened its embassy in the Solomon Islands. It was shocking news for the world, given that the US has an embassy that was actively established in nearby Papua New Guinea.
Importantly, this switch of bilateral recognition from Taiwan to China, caused a highly stressful situation within the country of Solomon Islands itself. As a result of this switch, mass social unrest happened in the capital of ‘Happy Isles’ in 2021. This sadly resulted in innocent youths losing their lives for nothing. Much of the reasons why this unrest occurred was due to a rapid outbreak of information all over the Honiara Town Council which then spread throughout the nation. As the message continued to spread, there was much misinterpretation and misleading information that was also spread from blind leaders and elders. Since then, the country has been settling and is now steady enough in preparation for the upcoming South Pacific Games this year, 2023.
After reading about the discussions made about the Solomon Islands, it seems that the general intentions of the US and Australia in our country is purposely for their own protection. To me, there seems to be increasing fear among Australians, New Zealanders and in other neighbouring Pacific Countries that there could be another wave of terrorist attacks to Australia and others. Clearly the people of Solomon Islands are innocent, but the Sogavare Government’s decision to bring in such an agreement with Beijing to the country is clearly for the betterment of their political leadership. This has led the people of Solomon into a great confusion, resulting in last year’s tension in Honiara. Moreover, Solomon Island is meant to be a democratic country and China is an authoritarian country. Many in the Solomon Islands see this as a conflict of interest. This is very similar to what was being said of the Soviet Union before they became partners with many South Pacific countries when signing fishing treaties.
Moreover, my opinion and my advice to the Sogavare government is that this feels like a Chinese money trap. I am concerned that the country won’t be able to afford to repay all the money China has loaned us. This would lead China to continue harvesting all the natural resources that belong to the innocent people of Solomon Islands. If China does not have these intentions, they should be more clear that all the funding they give us is because of true friendship.