If China builds a naval base in the Solomon Islands, there is a very grim prediction as to how it could turn out for Australia.
What will life be like with a Chinese naval base as Australia’s new neighbor?
That is the question every Australian should be asking today in the wake of China’s new security pact with the Solomon Islands.
The same question Canberra doesn’t ask itself during its fantastic election campaign.
The answer has three dimensions: regional, national and global.
First, over time, all South Pacific islands will need to reconsider their international allegiances. Some may witness China-backed opportunistic coups. Or, at least, passively sponsored revolutions that spring up in pursuit of Chinese riches by local elites.
That could turn into more bases, since that’s what China is after. If left unchecked, the “Pacific family” will slowly transform into micro-Chinese satraps, just as they are today a bit like American democratic cargo cults.
As China slowly builds its military presence in the South Pacific, Beijing will become proportionately more intimidating to Canberra, which brings us to the domestic implications.
Canberra will try to resist China’s gunboat diplomacy, but the severed lines of the geostrategic connection with Washington will also force it to protect itself. Same with Wellington.
What will Beijing demand? We already know this because he told us so in 2019 in his list of 14 complaints that included:
– Scrutinizing Chinese foreign acquisitions
– Huawei ban
– Enact foreign interference laws
– Stigmatizing government relations
– Call for a Covid consultation
– Support for human rights
– Resist the occupation of the South China Sea
– Resisting Belt and Road
– Parliament and media objecting to the Chinese Communist Party.
These things would be the first to go as Canberra slowly withers under Chinese military pressure.
It will not be necessary to fire a shot while a silent takeover of the Australian political economy takes place. The most unpleasant results in the longer term will be possible for anyone who is considered dangerous. See Hong Kong.
Ultimately, the global implications of a Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands will be ANZUS withering on the vine. This will communicate to the planet that US hegemony is finished in Australia and therefore practically worthless everywhere.
All of this begins and is fueled by a Chinese naval base in the Solomon Islands. We could allow it to develop and deal with it later at the risk of the above, as well as the risk of direct war with China in the form of its base.
Or we can act before it’s built in three easy steps.
First, discuss the Solomon Islands issues in public instead of burying them behind the same culture war debates that dominate elections which, ironically, are only possible by keeping China out of the South Pacific.
Second, recalibrate a major soft power push in the Pacific to turn around the Solomon Islands.
Third, if that doesn’t work, then let’s do what we have to with the tools of hard power statecraft to ensure the base never gets built.
The time is short.
David Llewellyn-Smith is Chief Strategist at MB Fund and MB Super. David is the founding editor and publisher of MacroBusiness and was the founding editor and global economics editor of The Diplomat, the leading portal on Asia Pacific geopolitics and economics. He co-authored The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review. MB Fund is underweight Australian iron ore miners.