Nations free to choose their destiny

The Chinese and Australian national flags on a celebration event in Sydney, Australia, on Sept 8, 2019. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

It is hard to take seriously the reaction that has been whipped up following the signing of a security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands on April 19. While the pact exemplifies China’s initiative for common security, much of related US and Australian hype is pure speculation at best and borders on the hysterical.

The hawks in Canberra and Washington have worked themselves into a frenzy over the agreement — one between two sovereign nations that seek to cement economic ties and friendship. They seem to have ignored for too long the vision of a global community for shared future raised by Chinese President Xi Jinping in recent years.

China is committed to the “vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security”, Xi said on several international occasions, most recently on April 21 in his keynote address to the Boao Forum for Asia.

At Boao, the Chinese president proposed the international community should examine the possibility of establishing a Global Security Initiative to ease tensions between nations. Xi said such an initiative would be “committed to respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, uphold non-interference in internal affairs, and respect the independent choices of development paths and social systems made by people in different countries”.

Though a small country of just under 700,000 people, Solomon Islands has full right under international law to make own choices for security and development, not to mention it went into a security agreement with Australia years ago. 

Its security pact with China, following serious rioting last November which inflicted casualties and heavy losses to people of Chinese origin, is just the latest example where two sovereign states are unjustly scrutinized and panned for seeking closer ties and friendship.

The right-wing media in Australia has fallen over itself to spread fear and anxiety without due care for the wider Pacific region that simply wants to live in peace in an uncertain world. Some claim this as “one of the worst days for our (Australia’s) national security since the end of the Vietnam War”. Australia’s Defence Minister Peter Dutton has suggested the Solomon Islands government may have been bribed into signing the agreement while deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce said Australia risked having its “own little Cuba off the coast” because of the agreement.

Then came the armchair analysts who said we can expect to see a flotilla of (Chinese) naval ships, aircraft and troops heading to the Solomons in weeks or months. Really? 

This sort of rhetoric does nothing to help the people of the Solomon Islands or the Pacific, nor will it help Australian people. Instead, it falls into Cold War sphere that China has warned against. 

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has gone to great pains to refute claims that China is about to build a naval base and station troops in the country. 

Australians should remember that the Solomon Islands asked Australia to build a naval base not long ago, but the request was rejected as Canberra cited defense commitments with Papua New Guinea, a former Australian colony.

Like most state leaders in the world, Sogavare told his country’s parliament recently that “we have no intention of pitching into any geopolitical power struggle”, and that “we will not pick sides”.

Unlike those in Australia and the United States who project China as a threat, many others see China as offering opportunities for growth, and as a reliable partner on issues of common concern. 

The Solomon Islands, an archipelagic nation to the east of Papua New Guinea, is in great need of sustainable development.

According to the Asian Development Bank, 22.7 percent of the nation’s population lives below the poverty line.

So why the world’s second biggest economy, China, should not help the Solomon Islands grow and prosper? 

That is all Sogavare seeks. And as leader of a sovereign nation, he must be respected for that.

Most Solomon Islands people work in subsistence farming, fishing, and artisanal forestry. If China is willing to help the government improve the lives of its people, why is that a problem for rich, powerful countries like Australia and the US?

Australia plans to spend A$65 million ($47.5 million) to build a new High Commission in Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands. Why did it not use that money to improve the quality of life for people in the country? 

As Xi said in expounding the Global Security Initiative, countries should abide by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, reject Cold War mentality and say no to group politics and bloc confrontation.

In today’s new world, nations, big or small, hold their future and destiny in their own hands. They can pick and choose who they do business with. 

The author is China Daily’s correspondent based in Sydney. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.