South China Sea fears soar as China ‘lays groundwork’ for military base near Australia

China looking to 'extend influence' into the South Pacific

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The move will see Beijing strengthen its ties with the Solomon Islands by making plans to build a base on the islands located in the Pacific Ocean. Chinese state-run media announced the news on Wednesday, claiming the country has expanded its military operations in the Indo-Pacific.

Tension has been mounting over the last 12 months between China and the west over multiple issues, including the status of the disputed island of Taiwan and the AUKUS deal between the US, Australia and the UK.

China has increased its presence in the South China Sea through the creation of islands in the sea, building various ports and airbases in the process.

Beijing has also strengthened diplomatic ties with the Solomon Islands with the small nation recently claiming it has a right to choose its allies and security arrangements.

Speaking of a security deal with China, Collin Beck, the permanent secretary of foreign affairs and a senior figure in the Solomon government, said: “When we look at the security vulnerability of the country, you know, we have a large youth population, about 18,000, looking for jobs every year.”

With tension high on the island, a leaked report shows China is stepping up its presence in the Solomon’s to assist with security.

Under the deal, China will send “police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement” to the country for various reasons including “maintaining social order” and “protecting people’s lives and property”.

Opposition politicians have raised concerns the Solomon Islands could use Chinese armed police and military personnel to quash democratic dissent and hold on to power.

Mr Beck stated in spite of international concerns, the Solomon Islands had no intention of allowing China to set up a permanent military presence in the country.

He said: “It has nothing to do with the establishment of a military base.”

Concerns were raised after the draft deal contained a provision that allowed China to “make ship visits to, carry out logistical replenishment in, and have stopover and transition in the Solomon Islands”.

However, critics say this is not the case.

Australian Policy Institute senior analyst Malcolm Davis said: “China is laying the groundwork for a military base in the Solomon Islands… something it could establish quite quickly.”

Other concerned parties have suggested China could start increasing its presence on the island on a multi-faceted scale, building a military base piece by piece.

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Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong will visit the Solomon Islands on Friday, her third such visit since being appointed to the role last month.

She previously called the Solomon Islands-China security pact the Australian government’s “biggest foreign policy failure since WW2.”

Ms Wong said her trip to New Zealand and the Solomons will reinforce Australia’s “close friendships and cooperation in our region”.

Speaking of the planned trip, Ms Wong said: “I look forward to discussing the ways we can continue to make progress on pandemic recovery, economic development and labour mobility priorities, and addressing our shared security interests.”

New Zealand has also raised concerns about increased Chinese influence in the Pacific Ocean.

Speaking following a recent joint security summit in Singapore, New Zealand Defence Minister Peeni Henare said: “We went in making sure that they (China) knew our stance on making the Pacific safe, secure, and supporting the independence of those sovereign nations in the Pacific and I made that point very clear on a number of occasions.”

For more stories like this, follow Defence and Securit Correspondent James Lee on Twitter: @JamesLee_DE

China sees opposition by the United States to its growing expansion across the Pacific Ocean as a threat and declared the resistance as disruptive.

Chen Hong, director of the Australian Studies Centre at East China Normal University told Chinese media: “The US has positioned China as a strategic rival that will try to replace its global hegemony.

“With this outdated Cold War mindset, the US has persisted to perceive the world as two binary parts, ‘us and them.’

“The South Pacific has become an arena of contention for Washington to contain, deter and impede China’s cooperation and partnership.”

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