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.’
Shocking disparities between Australia and China’s military power shows we would struggle in a war
How China’s feud with Australia has escalated
2019: Australian intelligence services conclude that China was responsible for a cyber-attack on Australia’s parliament and three largest political parties in the run-up to a May election.
April 2020: Australian PM Scott Morrison begins canvassing his fellow world leaders for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Britain and France are initially reluctant but more than 100 countries eventually back an investigation.
April 15: Morrison is one of the few leaders to voice sympathy with Donald Trump’s criticisms of the World Health Organization, which the US president accuses of bias towards China.
April 21: China’s embassy accuses Australian foreign minister Peter Dutton of ‘ignorance and bigotry’ and ‘parroting what those Americans have asserted’ after he called for China to be more transparent about the outbreak.
April 23: Australia’s agriculture minister David Littleproud calls for G20 nations to campaign against the ‘wet markets’ which are common in China and linked to the earliest coronavirus cases.
April 26: Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye hints at a boycott of Australian wine and beef and says tourists and students might avoid Australia ‘while it’s not so friendly to China’. Canberra dismisses the threat and warns Beijing against ‘economic coercion’.
May 11: China suspends beef imports from four of Australia’s largest meat processors. These account for more than a third of Australia’s $1.1billion beef exports to China.
May 18: The World Health Organization backs a partial investigation into the pandemic, but China says it is a ‘joke’ for Australia to claim credit. The same day, China imposes an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley. Australia says it may challenge this at the WTO.
May 21: China announces new rules for iron ore imports which could allow Australian imports – usually worth $41billion per year – to be singled out for extra bureaucratic checks.
June 5: Beijing warns tourists against travelling to Australia, alleging racism and violence against the Chinese in connection with Covid-19.
June 9: China’s Ministry of Education warns students to think carefully about studying in Australia, similarly citing alleged racist incidents.
June 19: Australia says it is under cyber-attack from a foreign state which government sources say is believed to be China. The attack has been targeting industry, schools, hospitals and government officials, Morrison says.
July 9: Australia suspends extradition treaty with Hong Kong and offers to extend the visas of 10,000 Hong Kongers who are already in Australia over China’s national security law which effectively bans protest.
August 18: China launches 12-month anti-dumping investigation into wines imported from Australia in a major threat to the $6billion industry.
August 26: Prime Minster Scott Morrison announces he will legislate to stop states and territories signing deals with foreign powers that go against Australia’s foreign policy. Analysts said it is aimed at China.
October 13: Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says he’s investigating reports that Chinese customs officials have informally told state-owned steelmakers and power plants to stop Aussie coal, leaving it in ships off-shore.
November 2: Agriculture Minister David Littleproud reveals China is holding up Aussie lobster imports by checking them for minerals.
November 3: Barley, sugar, red wine, logs, coal, lobster and copper imports from Australia unofficially banned under a directive from the government, according to reports.
November 18: China releases bizarre dossier of 14 grievances with Australia.
November 27: Australian coal exports to China have dropped 96 per cent in the first three weeks of November as 82 ships laden with 8.8million tonnes of coal are left floating off Chinese ports where they have been denied entry.
November 28: Beijing imposed a 212 per cent tariff on Australia’s $1.2 billion wine exports, claiming they were being ‘dumped’ or sold at below-cost. The claim is denied by both Australia and Chinese importers.
November 30: Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao posted a doctored image showing a grinning Australian soldier holding a knife to the throat of an Afghan child. The move outraged Australians.
December 12: Australian coal is added to a Chinese blacklist.
December 24: China suspends imports of Australian timber from NSW and WA after local customs officers say they found pests in the cargo.
January 11, 2021: Australia blocks $300million construction deal that would have seen state-owned China State Construction Engineering Corporation takeover Probuild. The bid was blacked over national security concerns.
February 5, 2021: China confirms Melbourne journalist and single mother Cheng Lei has been formally arrested after being detained in August, 2020.
February 23, 2021: China accuses Australia of being in an ‘axis of white supremacy’ with the UK, USA, Canada and NZ in an editorial.
March 11, 2021: Australia is accused of genocide by a Communist Party newspaper editor.
March 15, 2021: Trade Minister Dan Tehan announced he wants the World Trade Organisation to help mediate discussions between the two countries over the trade dispute.
April 21, 2021: Foreign Minister Marise Payne announces Australia has scrapped Victoria’s controversial Belt and Road deal with China using new veto powers.
May 6, 2021: China indefinitely suspends all strategic economic talks with Australia, blaming the Morrison Government’s attitude towards the relationship. The move cuts off all diplomatic contact with Beijing under the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue, freezing discussions between key officials below a ministerial level.
June 22, 2021: China tries to ‘ambush’ Australia with a push to officially declare the Great Barrier Reef ‘in danger’
September 15, 2021: Australia, the UK and the US announce the AUKUS security pact which will give the Australian military nuclear-powered submarines to counter China growing aggression in the Indo Pacific. The move is met with seething anger in Beijing.