From Fake Rifles to Naval Bases: Thick Fog Hovering over China’s Solomon Islands Plans | Taiwan News
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Solomon Islands police have released photos showing new ‘replica guns’ after China allegedly sent the country a secret cache of weapons on a logging vessel earlier this month.
Rampant speculation on Solomon Islands social media prompted the country’s police to release the footage in a bid to allay anxiety over the expedition, according to an ABC report. Opposition Leader Matthew Wale said days earlier that “like St. Thomas” (referring to a biblical figure who sought physical evidence of Christ’s resurrection) he needed to “see (the arms ) to believe (the police)”.
The country’s police forces insist that the consignment sent by China contained only replica weapons that are used for training programs with Chinese police. Yet opposition parliamentarians are still questioning the legality of the shipment and demanding to know why they were sent to a private rather than a public dock.
A New Zealand academic interviewed by ABC – Dr Anna Powles – said the replicas are only a first step and China will likely send real weapons later. The replicas are used to learn how to use the weapons safely before moving on to the real, deadly version, according to Powles.
The scandal surrounds a controversial police agreement between Beijing and Honiara, which Chinese authorities confirmed on Wednesday (March 23) was officially signed last week during a bilateral video meeting. Beijing remains mum on whether the deal is the first step in a broader security partnership that could lead to Chinese military involvement in the country.
Beyond the police deal, a draft text of a broader security deal has leaked online, which includes steps for Beijing to deploy police, military personnel and other armed forces in the country “to help maintain social order”, among other reasons. People’s Liberation Army Navy ships may also visit the islands for logistical purposes or to carry out repairs.
The prospect of a Chinese naval base in the region is ringing alarm bells in the capitals of New Zealand and Australia. Both countries currently have police forces stationed in the country after riots broke out last November.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said Pacific partners (referring to the Solomon Islands) must be transparent in their actions.
“We would clearly be concerned about the establishment of any military bases and we would raise this with the Solomon Islands government,” Defense Minister Peter Dutton told Australia’s Channel Nine on Friday (March 25).
“We want peace and stability in the region,” he added. “We don’t want disruptive influences and we don’t want the pressure and coercion that we see from China continuing to unfold in the region.”
Earlier this month, Australia announced plans for the largest peacetime buildup of its military ranks since the Vietnam War, a one-third increase by 2040. The expansion followed to another big reveal – plans for a base on Australia’s east coast for its future fleet of nuclear submarines.
Australian submarines are currently based in Perth on the west coast of the continent. Having a base on the east coast will give Australia’s submarine fleet an alternative route to the South China Sea (instead of having to go through the Indonesian archipelago) and will also provide better access to the South Pacific, where Chinese ships operate more frequently, per an Australian financial review report.
The prospect of a Chinese naval base in the Solomon Islands, just 2,000km northeast of Australia, makes plans for a submarine base on its east coast all the more timely.