China’s security deal with Solomons raises alarm in Pacific

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The Chinese national flag flies outside the Chinese Embassy in Honiara, Solomon Islands, on April 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Charley Piringi)
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A display case of photos is seen outside the Chinese Embassy in Honiara, Solomon Islands, on April 2, 2022. (AP Photo)
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Updated 07 April 2022

China’s security deal with Solomons raises alarm in Pacific

  • A Chinese military presence in the Solomons would put it on the doorstep of Australia and New Zealand
  • It will also be in close proximity to Guam, with its massive US military bases

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: A security alliance between China and the Solomon Islands has sent shudders throughout the South Pacific, with many worried it could set off a large-scale military buildup or that Western animosity to the deal could play into China’s hands.
What remains most unclear is the extent of China’s ambitions.
A Chinese military presence in the Solomons would put it not only on the doorstep of Australia and New Zealand but also in close proximity to Guam, with its massive US military bases.
China so far operates just one acknowledged foreign military base, in the impoverished but strategically important Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti. Many believe that China’s People’s Liberation Army is busy establishing an overseas military network, even if they don’t use the term “base.”
The Solomon Islands government says a draft of its agreement with China was initialed last week and will be “cleaned up” and signed soon.
The draft, which was leaked online, says that Chinese warships could stop in the Solomons for “logistical replenishment” and that China could send police, military personnel and other armed forces to the Solomons “to assist in maintaining social order.”
The draft agreement specifies China must approve what information is disclosed about joint security arrangements, including at media briefings.
The Solomon Islands, home to about 700,000 people, switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019 — a move rejected by the most populous province and a contributing factor to riots last November.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded in February by saying that Washington would reopen its embassy in the capital, Honiara, which has been closed since 1993, to increase its influence in the Solomons before China becomes “strongly embedded.”
Both China and the Solomons have strongly denied the new pact will lead to the establishment of a Chinese military base. The Solomon Islands government said the pact is necessary because of its limited ability to deal with violent uprisings like the one in November.
“The country has been ruined by recurring internal violence for years,” the government said this week.
But Australia, New Zealand and the US have all expressed alarm about the deal, with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern describing it as “gravely concerning.”
David Panuelo, the president of nearby Micronesia, which has close ties to the US, wrote an impassioned letter to Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare asking him to rethink the agreement.
He noted that both Micronesia and the Solomon Islands were battlegrounds during World War II, caught up in the clash of great powers.
“I am confident that neither of us wishes to see a conflict of that scope or scale ever again, and most particularly in our own backyards,” Panuelo wrote.
But the Solomon Islands police minister mocked Panuelo’s concerns on social media, saying he should be more worried about his own atoll being swallowed by the ocean due to climate change.
Sogavare has likewise dismissed foreign criticism of the security agreement as insulting, while labeling those who leaked the draft as “lunatics.”
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the agreement aims to maintain the safety of people’s lives and property, and “does not have any military overtones,” saying media speculation on the potential development of a base was groundless.
Euan Graham, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies based in Singapore, said China has been pursuing such a port facility for some five years as it aims to expand its naval presence in the South Pacific as part of Beijing’s long-game of seeking to become the dominant regional power.
“If they want to break out into the Pacific, at some point they will need the logistics capability to support that presence,” Graham said. “We’re not talking about war plans here; this is really about extending their presence and influence.”
Unlike the base built in Djibouti, where China has commercial interests in the region to protect, Graham said any operation in the Solomon Islands would likely be less substantial.
“It’s quite a subtle and interesting geopolitical game that’s emerged in the South Pacific,” he added. “And I think the Chinese have been very successful, if you like, in outflanking the United States and Australia in an influence competition, not a military competition.”
China’s base in Djibouti was opened in 2017. China doesn’t call it a base, but rather a support facility for its naval operations fending off piracy in the Gulf of Aden and for its African peacekeeping operations. It boasts a 400-meter (1,300-foot) runway and a pier big enough to dock either of China’s two operating aircraft carriers.
The base, with 2,000 personnel, allows China to position supplies, troops and equipment in a strategically crucial region, while also keeping an eye on US forces that are stationed nearby.
Chief among other potential base candidates is Cambodia, whose authoritarian leader Hun Sen has long been a trusted Chinese ally and which reportedly signed a secret 2019 agreement permitting the establishment of a Chinese base.
China is dredging the harbor at Ream Naval Base to allow ships larger than any Cambodia possesses to dock, and is building new infrastructure to replace a US-built naval tactical headquarters. A Chinese base in Cambodia would establish a chokepoint in the Gulf of Thailand close to the crucial Malacca Strait.
China has also funded projects at Gwadar in Pakistan, another close ally, and in Sri Lanka, where Chinese infrastructure lending has forced the government to hand over control of the southern port of Hambantota.
Especially intriguing has been an alleged Chinese push to establish a base in the West African nation of Equatorial Guinea. That would give China a presence on the Atlantic opposite the east coast of the continental United States as well as in an important African oil-producing region.
“China has seized opportunities to expand its influence at a time when the US and other countries have not been as engaged economically in the Pacific islands,” said Elizabeth Wishnick, an expert on Chinese foreign policy at Montclair State University in New Jersey.
About 80 years ago in the Solomon Islands, the US military began its famous “island hopping” campaign of World War II to take back Pacific islands from Imperial Japanese forces one-by-one. It successfully won back the main island of Guadalcanal in February 1943 after some six months of fierce fighting.
Today, the Solomon Islands would give China the potential ability to interfere with US naval operations in the region that could be crucial in the event of a conflict over Taiwan or in the South and East China seas.
Lt. Gen. Greg Bilton, Australia’s chief of joint operations, said that if Chinese naval ships were able to operate from the Solomon Islands it would “change the calculus.”
“They’re in much closer proximity to the Australian mainland, obviously, and that would change the way that we would undertake day-to-day operations, particularly in the air and at sea,” he told reporters.
But Jonathan Pryke, the director of the Pacific Islands Program at the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, said he thinks that leaders have overreacted to the agreement, perhaps in Australia’s case because there is an election looming.
“It’s clearly getting everyone very animated in the West and very alarmed,” Pryke said. “But I don’t think it markedly changes things on the ground.”
He said the pact could be seen as the first step toward China establishing a base, but there would need to be many more steps taken before that could happen.
“I think the alarmism has strengthened China’s hand by pushing the Solomon Islands into a corner,” Pryke said. “And they’ve reacted the way I imagine many countries would react from getting this outside pressure — by pushing back, and digging their heels in.”

Iran says arrested 28 Daesh members over Tehran plot with international links, including Pakistan

Updated 24 September 2023

Iran says arrested 28 Daesh members over Tehran plot with international links, including Pakistan

  • Officials say the arrested militants wanted to carry out 30 coordinated explosions in Tehran but were apprehended
  • A number of bombs, firearms, suicide vests and communications devices were also seized during the crackdown

TEHRAN: Iranian authorities have arrested 28 people linked to the Daesh group for plotting to target Tehran during the anniversary of last year’s protests, the intelligence ministry said on Sunday.
The protests erupted after the death in custody on September 16, 2022, of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd arrested for allegedly flouting the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
“In recent days, during a series of simultaneous operations in Tehran, Alborz and West Azerbaijan provinces, several terrorist bases and team houses were attacked, and 28 members of the said terrorist network were arrested,” the ministry said on its website.
“These elements are affiliated to the professional crime group of Daesh and some of them have a history of accompanying takfiris in Syria or being active in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Kurdistan region of Iraq,” it added.
In Shiite-dominated Iran, the term “takfiri” generally refers to jihadists or proponents of radical Sunni Islam.
The intelligence ministry said two security personnel were wounded during the arrest operations, and a number of bombs, firearms, suicide vests and communications devices were seized.
It said it had neutralized a plot to “carry out 30 simultaneous terrorist explosions in densely populated centers of Tehran to undermine security and incite riots and protests on the anniversary of last year’s riots.”
The months-long demonstrations saw hundreds of people killed, including dozens of security personnel, in what Tehran called “riots” fomented by foreign governments and “hostile media.”
On Thursday, a court sentenced to death a Tajik Daesh member convicted over a deadly gun attack on a Shiite Muslim shrine in August.
The attack on the Shah Cheragh mausoleum in Shiraz, capital of Fars province in the south, came less than a year after a mass shooting at the same site that was later claimed by the Daesh group.

India protests after China bars three female athletes from Asian Games 

Indian Minister of Sports Anurag Singh Thakur delivers a speech during a send off ceremony for Indian athletes.
Updated 24 September 2023

India protests after China bars three female athletes from Asian Games 

  • India, China share undemarcated border, where tensions have been high in recent years 
  • China does not recognize Arunachal Pradesh province, calls it South Tibet in newly issued map  

NEW DELHI: India’s Sports Minister Anurag Thakur called out China’s discriminatory approach on Sunday after three Indian athletes were denied entry to the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou.  

The Asian Games are the continent’s biggest sporting event and are held every four years. The current iteration opened on Saturday after it was due to be held last year but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Three female martial artists from the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh — a disputed region China mostly considered as South Tibet — were unable to travel to the Asian Games, while the rest of their 10-member squad was reportedly able to go ahead as planned.  

“As you could see I am not in China. I am in Coimbatore, standing with my players,” Thakur told reporters on Sunday in the south Indian city.  

“This discriminatory approach of a country, which is against the Olympic Charter, is not acceptable at all,” he said. “I have canceled my trip to China on these grounds as they have denied the opportunity to the players from Arunachal Pradesh to be a part of the Asian Games.” 

India and China share an undemarcated 3,800-km border, which has long been a source of dispute between the two Asian giants. Tensions rose in 2020 when at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed in hand-to-hand fighting in the Galwan area of the Ladakh region. The incident was their worst border clash since 1967.  

India lodged a strong protest with China only last month over a new map Beijing had released that showed Arunachal Pradesh as part of its official territory, which it calls South Tibet. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Friday that “China welcomes athletes from all countries” to attend the Asian Games, but said Beijing has never recognized Arunachal Pradesh, because the southern Tibetan region is “Chinese territory.”  

The three Indian athletes were reportedly given visas stapled to their passports, while the rest of India’s athletes competing at this year’s games were given Asian Games badges that also serve as visas to enter China. The same athletes did not compete at the World University Games in Chengdu, China in July because they were given similar visas.  

“The Chinese authorities have, in a targeted and pre-meditated manner, discriminated against some of the Indian sportspersons from the state of Arunachal Pradesh by denying them accreditation and entry to the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.  

India has also lodged a strong protest “against China’s deliberate and selective obstruction of some of our sportspersons,” the ministry said.  

“Arunachal Pradesh was, is and will always remain an integral and inalienable part of India.”  

Indonesia collaborates with UAE to launch mangrove research center at COP28  

Indonesia is aiming to launch an international mangrove research center with the UAE at COP28 in Dubai later this year.
Updated 24 September 2023

Indonesia collaborates with UAE to launch mangrove research center at COP28  

  • Indonesia has largest expanse of mangroves, accounts for one-fifth of global total
  • Mangrove Alliance for Climate was launched by UAE, Indonesia at COP27  

JAKARTA: Indonesia is aiming to launch an international mangrove research center with the UAE at the 2023 UN climate summit in Dubai later this year, Jakarta’s envoy in Abu Dhabi said on Sunday. 

The Mangrove Alliance for Climate was launched by the UAE and Indonesia at COP27, the 2022 UN climate summit in Egypt last November. The initiative seeks to promote nature-based solutions for issues related to climate change and was later joined by other countries, including Australia and India.  

“Indonesia is very much in support of these types of initiatives. Firstly, because it can help reduce emissions and it’s easy for us to plant mangroves,” Indonesian Ambassador to UAE Husin Bagis told Arab News.  

“Abu Dhabi has a huge interest in helping Indonesia in developing its mangrove ecosystem … The plan is to launch the mangrove research center at COP28.”  

This year, the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference, also known as COP28, will convene from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 in Dubai.  

Southeast Asia is home to the most extensive mangrove ecosystems, with Indonesia alone accounting for about a fifth of the global total. Mangroves provide various benefits in the face of climate change, including their ability to capture massive amounts of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, which are then trapped and stored in their carbon-rich flooded soils for millennia.  

According to a 2022 report by the Global Mangrove Alliance, however, rates of mangrove protection hover around 20 percent in the region and losses are more common due to rice and palm oil production.  

During the first technical meeting of the Mangrove Alliance for Climate on Thursday in New York, Indonesia reaffirmed its support for the initiative and its aim to “promote mangrove as a nature-based solution to fight climate change.” 

Nani Hendiarti, environmental and forestry management deputy at the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Investment, said during the meeting: “Indonesia is in full support of this MAC initiative and will collaborate with other global initiatives in managing mangrove ecosystems. This isn’t only beneficial ecologically, but also provides social and economic benefits for coastal communities.” 

In a statement issued by the ministry, Hendiarti said that the planned international mangrove research center will be used for capacity-building, collaborative research on innovations surrounding mangrove and biotechnology, as well as conservation of mangrove biodiversity. 

“This collaboration between Indonesia and UAE under MAC and the International Mangrove Research Center will be launched at COP28 in Dubai at the beginning of December. This is the right moment to show a real commitment to tackle climate change to the world,” Hendiarti said. 

The Indonesia-UAE mangrove alliance is a “good idea” as long as it works on conserving existing mangrove forests and rehabilitating degraded mangrove forests, said Dr. Agus Sari, CEO of environmental advisory agency Landscape Indonesia and a former senior adviser to the UN Development Program. 

“Indonesia needs to play this well as it hosts the largest area of mangroves worldwide,” Sari told Arab News. “As it has a dominant role, it needs to be able to capitalize on that position in the market.” 

UN, regional bodies key to reducing tensions: UAE minister

Updated 24 September 2023

UN, regional bodies key to reducing tensions: UAE minister

  • The UN is the ‘first line of defense’ in preventing the international order from descending into polarized political rifts, minister says
  • Regional outfits such as the League of Arab States and the African Union also play a critical role due to their familiarity with local contexts

NEW YORK CITY: International organizations require major reform if the world is to address the growing list of crises facing it, a UAE minister has said.

Addressing the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, the Emirates’ minister of state for international cooperation said that institutions such as the UN were crucial for repairing relations, reducing global tensions and establishing peaceful solutions for many issues.

“But time and again, geopolitical tensions have held the Security Council back from reaching consensus on urgent matters, even on strictly humanitarian issues,” Reem Al-Hashimy said. 

“This is why we must engage in serious discussions on its comprehensive and meaningful reforms, specifically pertaining to use of the veto; expansion of permanent and elected members; its working methods and its ability to anticipate and effectively resolve crises,” she said.

Noting that the UAE had witnessed the Security Council’s operations during its time as a member over the past year, Al-Hashimy said that “strong political will” was needed to right the ship.

 “What’s not needed is wading into futile divisions and emphasising differences,” she said.

Alongside reforms to the Security Council, Al-Hashimy called on member states to work toward enhancing the effectiveness of not only the wider UN but of international organizations in general.

Describing the UN as the “first line of defense” in preventing the international order from descending into polarized political rifts, she said that regional outfits also had a role to play.

“Organizations such as the League of Arab States and the African Union play a critical role due to their understanding and familiarity with local contexts and are better positioned to play a pivotal role in supporting these endeavours and political processes,” she said.

“Global challenges are becoming increasingly interlinked, and no country nor organization is capable of addressing them alone.”

Philippines condemns Chinese ‘floating barrier’ in South China Sea

Updated 24 September 2023

Philippines condemns Chinese ‘floating barrier’ in South China Sea

  • ‘Floating barrier’ preventing Filipinos from entering and fishing in the area
  • Philippine coast guard and fisheries bureau personnel discovered the floating barrier, estimated at 300 meters long

MANILA: The Philippines on Sunday accused China’s coast guard of installing a “floating barrier” in a disputed area of the South China Sea, saying it prevented Filipinos from entering and fishing in the area.
Manila’s coast guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources “strongly condemn” China’s installation of the barrier in part of the Scarborough Shoal, Commodore Jay Tarriela, a coast guard spokesperson, posted on the X social media platform, formerly Twitter.
The barrier “prevents Filipino fishing boats from entering the shoal and depriving them of their fishing and livelihood activities,” he said.
The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, overlapping with the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines. Beijing seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and forced fishermen from the Philippines to travel further for smaller catches.
Beijing allowed Filipino fishermen to return to the uninhabited shoal when bilateral relations were improving markedly under then-President Rodrigo Duterte. But tension has mounted again since his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, took office last year.
Philippine coast guard and fisheries bureau personnel discovered the floating barrier, estimated at 300 m (1,000 feet) long, on a routine patrol on Friday near the shoal, locally known as Bajo de Masinloc, Tarriela said.
Three Chinese coast guard rigid-hull inflatable boats and a Chinese maritime militia service boat installed the barrier when the Philippine vessel arrived, he said.
Filipino fishermen say China typically installs such barriers when they monitor a large number of fishermen in the area, Tarriela said.