China agreement for 75-year lease for an entire island in the Solomons worrying Australia

The Solomon Islands in the South Pacific are a militarily crucial location for any Pacific power interested in threatening the continent of Australia.  That's why the fighting at Guadalcanal, one of the Solomons, was so fierce during World War II.  At that time, the expansionary Pacific power was Japan, while today it is China, but the strategic value of the Solomons remains the same.

That's why alarm bells are going off in Canberra over this news, coming from Andrew Tillett of the Australian Financial Review (paywalled):

Revelations a Chinese company linked to a state-owned enterprise is trying to lease an entire island in the Solomon Islands for up to 75 years has sparked fresh alarm that it could pave the way for Beijing to establish a Pacific military base on a strategic gateway to Australia.

The island's Central Province government last month signed an investment agreement with the China Sam Enterprise Group to develop the island of Tulagi and neighbouring islands as a special economic zone.

The agreement reportedly makes provisions for the development of an oil and gas terminal, fishery base and upgrade of the airport.

The agreement is not a done deal, however.  According to local officials:

Faced with a local backlash over the lease, Central Province premier Stanley Manetiva told Radio New Zealand the agreement was non-binding.

"To be honest here, leasing Tulagi will not be possible because there are existing land arrangements under the national laws which cover most of the land. Nothing will eventuate on the agreement," he said.

The situation is murky, and the legal status of the agreement is unknown.  But clearly, the Chinese are angling for some kind of foothold in the Solomons.  The Solomon Islands only a month ago ditched diplomatic relations with Taiwan and opened them with China, followed by alignment with China and its infamous Belt and Road Initiative, designed to construct dual use economic and military facilities, paid for with money loaned to host countries that they may have trouble repaying.

Solomons Island Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was given a red carpet reception in Beijing last week when he met President Xi Jinping and agreed to sign up to the Belt and Road Initiative[.]

It's easy to understand the appeal of Tulagi, according to Fumi Matsumoto of the Nikkei Asian Review:

Covering an area of 2.08 sq km, Tulagi has been prized for its deepwater harbor. The island, located north of Guadalcanal, was a South Pacific headquarters for Great Britain, then briefly occupied by Japan, during World War II.

Tillett reports that Aussies are worried:

Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings warned the agreement could lead to a Chinese military base being established on Australia's doorstop, particularly if the Solomons Island [sic] defaulted on any loans.

"There seems to be a pattern of Chinese state-owned companies leasing a port or airport facilities and doing a bit of development and it's all put in the context of supporting tourism or fisheries," he said.

"The risk is that what is happening is a strategic first jab and the second punch is a dual use or military use port that comes after. (snip)

He said China was trying to control all approaches to the Asian mainland "and if you do that, you complicate the task of the US to get to Asia".

China quite clearly wants to dominate East Asia and the Pacific, pushing out the U.S. as the region's dominant military power.  It does not yet have hold of an invaluable base controlling to approach to Australia, but if the Solomon Islands borrow from China to pay for ports and other facilities and default, they could open the door for untrammeled military development.

Hat tip: John McMahon.

Map credit.

The Solomon Islands in the South Pacific are a militarily crucial location for any Pacific power interested in threatening the continent of Australia.  That's why the fighting at Guadalcanal, one of the Solomons, was so fierce during World War II.  At that time, the expansionary Pacific power was Japan, while today it is China, but the strategic value of the Solomons remains the same.

That's why alarm bells are going off in Canberra over this news, coming from Andrew Tillett of the Australian Financial Review (paywalled):

Revelations a Chinese company linked to a state-owned enterprise is trying to lease an entire island in the Solomon Islands for up to 75 years has sparked fresh alarm that it could pave the way for Beijing to establish a Pacific military base on a strategic gateway to Australia.

The island's Central Province government last month signed an investment agreement with the China Sam Enterprise Group to develop the island of Tulagi and neighbouring islands as a special economic zone.

The agreement reportedly makes provisions for the development of an oil and gas terminal, fishery base and upgrade of the airport.

The agreement is not a done deal, however.  According to local officials:

Faced with a local backlash over the lease, Central Province premier Stanley Manetiva told Radio New Zealand the agreement was non-binding.

"To be honest here, leasing Tulagi will not be possible because there are existing land arrangements under the national laws which cover most of the land. Nothing will eventuate on the agreement," he said.

The situation is murky, and the legal status of the agreement is unknown.  But clearly, the Chinese are angling for some kind of foothold in the Solomons.  The Solomon Islands only a month ago ditched diplomatic relations with Taiwan and opened them with China, followed by alignment with China and its infamous Belt and Road Initiative, designed to construct dual use economic and military facilities, paid for with money loaned to host countries that they may have trouble repaying.

Solomons Island Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was given a red carpet reception in Beijing last week when he met President Xi Jinping and agreed to sign up to the Belt and Road Initiative[.]

It's easy to understand the appeal of Tulagi, according to Fumi Matsumoto of the Nikkei Asian Review:

Covering an area of 2.08 sq km, Tulagi has been prized for its deepwater harbor. The island, located north of Guadalcanal, was a South Pacific headquarters for Great Britain, then briefly occupied by Japan, during World War II.

Tillett reports that Aussies are worried:

Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings warned the agreement could lead to a Chinese military base being established on Australia's doorstop, particularly if the Solomons Island [sic] defaulted on any loans.

"There seems to be a pattern of Chinese state-owned companies leasing a port or airport facilities and doing a bit of development and it's all put in the context of supporting tourism or fisheries," he said.

"The risk is that what is happening is a strategic first jab and the second punch is a dual use or military use port that comes after. (snip)

He said China was trying to control all approaches to the Asian mainland "and if you do that, you complicate the task of the US to get to Asia".

China quite clearly wants to dominate East Asia and the Pacific, pushing out the U.S. as the region's dominant military power.  It does not yet have hold of an invaluable base controlling to approach to Australia, but if the Solomon Islands borrow from China to pay for ports and other facilities and default, they could open the door for untrammeled military development.

Hat tip: John McMahon.

Map credit.