CCP’s international militarization record contradicts its denials of intent to build Solomons base
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has repeatedly militarized structures in other countries despite claims when the development agreements were signed that it had “no intention” of building military bases on the sites.
Given the CCP’s record, nations in the Indo-Pacific have reason to doubt the communist regime’s denials in late May 2022 regarding construction of military infrastructure in the Solomon Islands as part of a security deal, analysts contend.
Although Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, “There is no intention at all to establish a military base” in the Solomon Islands, draft documents leaked May 8, 2022, reveal the agreement would enable a Chinese military presence in the South Pacific, including construction of dual-use ports and airfields that the People’s Liberation Army could use, according to Agence France-Presse. (Pictured: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, center, arrives in Honiara, Solomon Islands, May 26, 2022, amid growing concerns over Beijing’s military and financial coercion of the South Pacific region).
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has also signed security agreements with the Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, but the deals to date have been limited to training and providing equipment, according to The Associated Press (AP).
In the recent past, the CCP denied it intended to militarize facilities it planned in Cambodia, Djibouti, Pakistan and the South China Sea, among other places. Then, within a couple of years, or even months, it built military bases at the locations.
CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping repeatedly pledged that the artificial islands the PRC was building on disputed reefs in the South China Sea would not be used for military purposes. “Relevant construction activity that China is undertaking in the Nansha Islands does not target or impact any country and there is no intention to militarize,” Xi said as late as September 2015, using the Chinese name for the disputed Spratly archipelago, Reuters reported.
But months earlier, military construction had begun, satellite images revealed. By March 2022, the CCP had fully militarized at least three artificially expanded reefs —Mischief, Subi and Fiery Cross — in the South China Sea, arming them with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, laser and jamming equipment, and fighter jets, Adm. John C. Aquilino, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Commander, told AP.
“The function of those islands is to expand the offensive capability of the PRC beyond their continental shores,” Aquilino said. “They can fly fighters, bombers plus all those offensive capabilities of missile systems.”
“So that’s the threat that exists, that’s why it’s so concerning for the militarization of these islands,” he told AP. “They threaten all nations who operate in the vicinity and all the international sea and airspace.”
The PRC’s pattern of denials followed by militarization has replayed worldwide.
In Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, the CCP long claimed it was building a “logistics facility,” but instead opened a military base there in 2017 to enable the People’s Liberation Army Navy to project power over the strategic Gulf of Aden and the African continent.
“China’s militarization of its port project in Djibouti serves as a warning vis-a-vis Beijing’s port interests in other countries, such as Tanzania, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Burma [Myanmar], among others,” Craig Singleton, a China expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Voice of America in September 2021.
Despite denials, evidence is mounting that Chinese port projects in Cambodia and Pakistan will produce dual-use ports.
Satellite images show facilities with unusually high security features built by the Chinese at the Gwadar port in Pakistan, analysts confirm.
In July 2019, The Wall Street Journal newspaper published allegations that the CCP and Cambodia struck a secret deal to build a military base in Ream, which both denied. Satellite images in January 2022 documented Chinese dredging work to create a deeper port, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. In 2020, Cambodia razed a U.S.-built Cambodian Navy tactical headquarters at Ream.
Concern is growing that Chinese-funded ports in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific and worldwide will also evolve into dual-use facilities.
Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst in Defence Strategy and Capability at Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told the South China Morning Post newspaper in March 2021: “In terms of bases, I think these are inevitable and we are seeing China work towards this goal through its Belt and Road Initiative [One Belt, One Road (OBOR)]. They are securing access to — or in some cases control of — ports that whilst commercial in nature, could support PLAN [PLA Navy] operations in the future,” Davis said.
“There is great concern in Australia about Chinese efforts to use the BRI [OBOR] as a means to gain access to bases and airbases through commercial investment in dual-role facilities. … Given the record of Chinese harassment of foreign fishing vessels in the South China Sea, the concern would be that we would face aggressive Chinese activities that could challenge our maritime security interests close to our eastern seaboard.”
IMAGE CREDIT: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS