Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of the Solomon Islands and Xi Jinping

The Quad summit in Tokyo scheduled for 24 May comes soon after China ‘taking control’ of the Solomon Islands

The Miguel de Cervantes quote, “forewarned, forearmed; to be prepared is half the victory” is a grim reminder to the world what awaits them if the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region is not given its due importance.

People’s Republic of China, commonly known as China, has a diverse landscape with the Gobi Desert and the Taklamakan Desert on its north and the Himalayas, Pamir, Tian Shan and the Karakoram mountain ranges on its west. It has sub-tropical forests on its south and a 14,500-kilometre coastline on its east. The Chinese coastline is bound by the South China Sea, East China Sea, Bohai Sea and the Yellow Sea.

With this kind of a geographical layout, it is but natural that eastern China would be the centre of gravity of that country. So eastern China is home to about 90% of the Chinese population and has the most important cities like Beijing, Jinan, Shanghai and Shenzen.

Hence, the eastern part of China is the most vulnerable and China is aware that an attack on its coastline would make things difficult as it would get cut off from the world. It is this belly that is the most critical for China.

China has since long wanted to control the Indo-Pacific region which is of immense importance for its security and commercial shipping. To contain the Chinese control of the Indo-Pacific two important developments have taken place in the last 15 years.

One is the initiation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD), colloquially called Quad, by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007 with the support of then Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the US Vice President Dick Cheney.

The other is the formulation of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy also known as the FOIP strategy or simply as the Indo-Pacific strategy in 2016 by Japan and the United States Department of State publishing it as a formalised concept on 4 November 2019.

Quad after its inception in 2007 was followed by a joint military exercise between the member nations called Exercise Malabar.

For a brief period, Australia withdrew from Quad when Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister of Australia.

In 2010, after Julia Gillard took over as the Prime Minister of Australia, they renewed their military relationship with the US which led to the deployment of the US Marines in Darwin, Australia overlooking the Timor Sea and the Lombok Strait.

During the 2017 ASEAN Summit in Manila, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and US President Donald Trump agreed to revive the Quad as it was imperative now to check the growing influence of China in the Indo-Pacific region.

A joint statement by the Quad members in March 2021 called “The Spirit of the Quad” was released, which spoke of a shared vision for a FOIP and a rule based maritime order in the East and South China Seas.

With strong US naval bases in South Korea and Japan and with the emergence of Quad as a regional power, China knew that it had to act really fast in order to counterbalance the near supremacy that Quad seemed to be enjoying. Herein comes the Solomon Islands story.

The nation of Solomon Islands consists of six major islands and over 900 smaller islands and is located in Oceania. It has an area of 28,400 square kilometres and a population of 6.52 lakh (0.6 million). The capital of Solomon Islands is Honiara. The Solomon Islands do not have any armed forces and the security of the island nation is looked after by its police. The distance of the Solomon Islands from China is 7,731 kilometres but what is of paramount importance to China is its location. The Solomon Islands are located 3,280 km from Australia and with the growing stature of Quad, having good relations with the Solomon Islands would serve two purposes for China. One, China gains a foothold in the Oceania region to exert power over the Pacific Ocean by establishing an important naval base here in the near future. Two, it acts as a deterrence against Australia, which is a Quad member.

On 20 April 2022, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of the Solomon Islands announced that his government had signed a security agreement with China. The announcement shook the entire world as now China has a foothold in an island nation which had played a decisive role in World War II. China can now use this foothold to block shipping routes whenever the need arises.

China has agreed to pump in millions of dollars to boost infrastructure in the Solomons. Of course, there aren’t any free lunches in the world. The takeover of Hambantota port in Sri Lanka and the Gwadar port in Pakistan by China for failure to repay Chinese loans are stark reminders of what awaits the Solomon Islands.

Australia, which is located closer to the Solomon Islands than China, pressurised the island nation not to sign the security agreement with Beijing. But the decade long efforts by China paid off, thus sending shock waves throughout the world.

And then the Solomon Islands signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a Chinese firm on 30 April 2022 about building a regional aeronautical hub in the island nation.

The Quad meetings of 24 September 2021, which was attended by the leaders of the member nations and of 11 February 2022, which was attended by the foreign ministers of the member nations, are an indicator of the strong relations that are cementing this alliance, as the major powers in the world are now aware of the dangers the world faces if the growing stature of China in the Indo-Pacific region is not checked.

The Quad summit in Tokyo scheduled for 24 May 2022 is significant as it comes soon after China “taking control” of the Solomon Islands and the aggressive stance that China is adopting towards Taiwan, in the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war. The Tokyo summit will be attended by US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Australia will confirm after its elections due on 21 May 2022.

China calls the Quad the Asian NATO. Clearly, the Quad riles China as it is checkmating Beijing’s plan to control the Indo-Pacific.

Quad is a quagmire for China.

A. Josland’s quip, “if someone is strong enough to bring you down, show them you are strong enough to get back up” has a deeper meaning for the current geopolitical scenario of the Indo-Pacific region.