China and the Solomon Islands finalised a controversial security agreement, an early draft of which was leaked. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare insists that the agreement was necessary to deal with the islands’ “internal security situation”. But Pacific countries including Australia, New Zealand and the US have raised concerns about the agreement — negotiated in secret late last year — potentially leading to Chinese military presence in the islands.

Why the Solomon Islands matter

  1. With a population of less than seven lakh, the chain of hundreds of islands is located near Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean — a politically volatile region that has been at the centre of a long-running diplomatic power struggle between the West and China.
  2. In the capital city of Honiara on the island of Guadalcanal, some of the fiercest battles of World War II were fought between the US and Japanese troops.
  3. Between the late 1990s and early 2000s, the country was rife with ethnic unrest and military conflict between several armed groups, ultimately resulting in a coup that brought Sogavare to power for the first time.
  4. With its economy in a state of near-collapse and ethnic clashes still rampant, the Pacific Nation was forced to call in reinforcements to stabilise state affairs.
  5. In 2003, a multinational Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), led by Australia, was established.
  6. As part of the mission, troops were deployed from Australia and New Zealand and a state of stability was eventually restored. But political instability continues to persist, making it difficult for new governments to stick around.