Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka has made clear that he is more comfortable dealing with countries that share similar values, values that are built on democratic systems - free speech, free and fair elections, and respect for human rights, to name a few.
“We’re more comfortable dealing with traditional friends, that we have similar systems of government, that our democracies are the same brand of democracy, coming out of the Westminster system,” Rabuka told reporters while in Australia.
On the other hand, his counterpart, our Prime Minister, says the decision to switch to China puts the Solomon Islands on the right side of history, stating that most of the UN membership recognizes China’s one China policy – meaning Taiwan is part of China. Shared values, or shared government systems, do not feature in Sogavare’s calculations.
“Let me assure you all that the Solomon Islands will adhere to the One China Principle and no amount of pressure or influence, whether locally or foreign, will deter or sway us away from this noble principle and bold stand,” the Prime Minister said.
Sogavare went on to ink a security agreement with China, which, to this day, remains a secret – no one knows the content of the agreement. This is making many countries nervous, and perhaps for good reasons.
It is correct that such a decision is no one’s business, but when a communist country appears to dictate the terms of such an agreement, it will make others nervous. Already the agreement is neither open nor transparent – a terrible starting point for any security agreement.
“The strategies of PLA (Chinese) Navy have evolved from coastal defence to offshore waters defence, and more recently to the combination of offshore waters defence and open seas protection. PLA doctrines have also changed with a focus on maritime military capability,” writes Denghua Zhang, from The Australian National University.
“All these shifts have contributed to the growing capability and confidence of the PLA Navy. This makes PICs more relevant to China’s interest and security.”
The security challenges within the Pacific region are not against a hostile neighbor, on the contrary, it is against illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing activities – a lot of them are either Chinese-owned or Chinese-flagged vessels. Billions have been stolen from Pacific waters from such activities.
The vast Pacific Ocean is the Pacific Islands' greatest asset, prompting Pacific Leaders to push for the Blue Pacific, a blueprint on how best the region can manage shared challenges and problems.
The fact that Sogavare has gone ahead and penned his own security arrangements with China has led to an unprecedented level of attention, but the attention is not on the issues that matter such as climate change and illegal fishing.
The Pacific Islands is at a crossroad - regional unity, stability, and progress depends on regional solutions to shared challenges. And should one country choose its own path, the least it can do is be open and transparent about it.