Australia’s north could soon be encircled by Chinese military forces as Beijing carries out a secret campaign to wield influence over small South Pacific nations, muscling in their seaports and eyeing off strategic patches of land.
A leaked document outlining the details of a security agreement between the authoritarian state and Solomon Islands sent shockwaves through Canberra last week, with the deal opening the door for a Chinese military base and permanent police presence on Australia’s doorstep.
The revelation had alarm bells ringing as the communist superpower has also been pumping money into Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste for years under the guise of development, prompting fears China may already have its hooks deep into Australia’s regional partners.
Last year, a Beijing-backed company lodged a proposal to build a $39billion city on a remote island between Queensland and PNG, in a move that’s made Australian national security analysts nervous.
Likewise, officials have grown increasingly concerned about the cosy relationship between China and Timor Leste, with China state-owned firms building up port, telecommunications and road infrastructure costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
Australia’s north could soon be encircled by Chinese military forces as Beijing carries out a secret campaign to wield influence over small South Pacific nations, muscling in their seaports and eyeing off strategic patches of land
The draft security agreement says Solomon Islands, could ‘request China to send police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces’ to the country.
It further states China may ‘make ship visits, to carry out logistical replenishment in, and have stopover and transition in Solomon Islands’.
‘China is looking to expand its ability to project force around the globe and the South Pacific is not immune to that,’ Lowy Institute research fellow and former diplomat to the Solomon Islands, Mihai Sora, told Daily Mail Australia.
‘The security cooperation agreement that potentially involves Chinese military assets transiting or basing in the region, would have the effect of blocking naval and military assets from other countries like Australia.
‘That would be destabilising because it would potentially limit the freedom of movement within the Pacific.’
Tensions have been simmering in Solomon Islands since Prime Minister Sogavare broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favour of Beijing in September 2019. Pictured: Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare (right) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing
Solomon Islands pro-China stance has been the centre of division for years among the local population.
Tensions have been simmering in Solomon Islands since Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favour of Beijing in September 2019.
The move angered many locals who fear the country’s natural resources – mainly fishing, palm oil and logging – are being fleeced by the authoritarian power.
Beijing handed over about $730million to the Solomon Islands government after the diplomatic switch was made.
Public sentiment is that this money was paid in exchange for a piece of their sovereignty including access to politicians and backdoors to ownership of both public and private businesses.
Smoke rises from a burnt out buildings in Honiara’s Chinatown after riots in November 2021
A building prominently displaying three Taiwanese flags (pictured) was left untouched during anti-China riots while other shops and businesses were torched in the Solomon Islands in 2021
Opposition politicians also claim the Chinese Government funded Mr Sogavare’s political campaign at the last election and gifted him a personal slush fund to win the votes of fellow MPs.
In the wake of anti-Beijing riots in November that left almost every building in Chinatown smouldering, Mr Sogavare called on Australian Police and military to send a peacekeeping force.
In the weeks that followed, a contingent of Chinese police officers were also deployed to Solomon Islands to work with local authorities to maintain order and guard Chinese interests.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA:
The under-developed, resources-rich nation of PNG has been a major point of interest for Beijing in recent years.
Chinese state-owned enterprises have built an array of roads, bridges and port infrastructure across the sun-drenched country and even shelled out to build APEC House in 2018 – when President Xi Jinping was greeted with an official state welcome.
Now, Beijing is looking to take over an island just 200km from the tip of Cape York, more leaked documents in 2021 revealed.
Under the proposal for New Daru City, the Communist Party-backed firm would have total ownership of the venture for a designated period of time. Pictured: Children jump over a dirty drain on the PNG island of Daru
It is feared China could have an ulterior motive with secret plans to turn Daru (pictured) into a naval base
The plan revealed in leaked documents in 2021 would see a shining new city constructed on the Island of Daru in Papua New Guinea – just 200km north of Australia’s Cape York in the Torres Strait
The proposed $39billion plan to build a city on the island of Daru that has a population of about 20,000 and recently struggled with a tuberculosis epidemic, has remained shrouded in mystery.
Beijing-backed Hong Kong registered company, WYW Holding Limited, is behind the scheme which was submitted to the PNG government in April 2020.
If approved, ‘New Daru City’ would include a major sea port, an industrial zone as well as a commercial business precinct.
The 100km square development project would also house a resort for tourists and vast residential areas.
Under the proposal for New Daru City, the potential deal would be ‘predicted on an agreed Sovereign Guarantee based on a long-term BOT [Build Operate Transfer] contract’.
This means the Communist Party-backed firm would have total ownership of the venture for a designated period of time yet to be determined.
Daru, with a population of about 20,000 and is critically underdeveloped. Children in Daru hold up fish to the camera
If approved, ‘New Daru City’ would include a major sea port, an industrial zone as well as a commercial business precinct. Pictured: Fishing boats in Daru
China has swooped in to capitalise on Australia’s rocky relationship with Timor Leste in recent years pouring US$490 million into the country for development projects.
As well as pumping cash into highways, petrochemical processing facilities, telecommunications connectivity and airports, Beijing’s cash is also going towards seaport infrastructure.
The move has endeared China to local politicians who are wary of Australia after various disputes over maritime boundaries, oil royalties and even spying accusations against ASIO dating back to 2004.
‘Timor’s relationship with China is definitely something that Australia should be looking at closely,’ Mr Sora said.
AUSTRAILA LOSING INFLUENCE TO CHINA
Solomon Islands Opposition Leader, Matthew Wale, claims he tried to warn Australian officials about China’s grip on Honiara and the impending security agreement last year, but nothing was done.
‘I’m extremely disappointed in the Australian government,’ the he Democratic Party leader told the ABC.
‘I have intimated as much to the Australian High Commissioner and officials that this was in the offing, even as far back as last year — all the indications were there and the Australian government did nothing about it.’
Scott Morrison fended off questions about the Solomon Islands and the South Pacific while campaigning at new Sydney airport site Monday
But Scott Morrison argued his government did not ‘drop the ball’ on the regional security issue.
‘We have been aware of the security risks right across the Pacific. That is why we doubled our development assistance through the Step Up aid program,’ the embattled Prime Minister said on Monday.
‘Over the years both sides of the Australian government have varied in the amount of attention they give to the South Pacific,’ Mr Sora said.
‘The Pacific Step up program was an attempt to correct that perception of neglect.
‘But there is definitely more that Australia should be doing in its engagement with all countries in the South Pacific, the problem is when it comes to budget.’
China’s President Xi Jinping inspects People’s Liberation Army soldiers at a barracks in Hong Kong on June 30, 2017
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