The Solomon Islands’ ruling Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement held a caucus meeting on Sept. 16 and, according to local media reports, 27 of the 33 people at the meeting voted in favor of switching diplomatic ties to China, with six abstentions.
So none of the participants supported maintaining formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
That same day, Taiwan severed ties with the Honiara government and on Sept. 21, the Solomon Islands established diplomatic relations with China.
The continuous expansion of China’s predatory economics and debt-trap diplomacy in the Pacific region has in practice damaged the regional stability of the Indo-Pacific, where 11 South Pacific island nations have accumulated more than US$1.3 billion of loans and debts to China over the past decade.
These nations are essential for the intactness and safety of the second island chain, which stretches from Japan, Guam, Micronesia and the Solomon Islands to the Marshall Islands. These countries also play a crucial role in national security on Australia’s north coast.
As early as in 2016, US Army Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Matelski — then a US Army War College fellow at the US Department of Defense’s Hawaii-based Daniel K. Inouye Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies — wrote in an opinion piece in The Diplomat online magazine, entitled “America’s Micronesia Problem,” that China has been providing the Federated States of Micronesia with investments and technologies for infrastructure, land reclamation and artificial islands since 2003.
Apparently, China’s ultimate purpose is to seek the establishment of military installations in Micronesia to deter US armed forces in the Pacific from conducting military operations in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
China might also emulate the US military on Guam by turning a Micronesian military base into a takeoff and landing facility, and an air base for Xian H-6 bombers conducting far seas missions.
Functioning as a stepping stone on the second island chain for China to cut off US military power in the Asia-Pacific region, Beijing’s potential military installations in Micronesia pose a threat not only to the US’ military command on Guam, but also to Taiwan’s national security.
Moreover, it would have an deterring effect on US forces when evaluating whether to come to Taiwan’s defense if war breaks out.
In the latest version of the US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy, proactive implementation of a comprehensive check-and-balance strategy has replaced “engagement for purposes of regulation” as the US’ new China policy, which aims to deter, or contain, China’s expansion in the region.
The US is set to contain and hold China in check through three “P’s” — “promoting” a networked region, which serves as the foundation for the enhancement of its own “preparedness” and the formation of stronger “partnerships” with foreign alliances.
At a Aug. 4 news conference in Sydney in connection to the “two plus two” Australia – US Ministerial Consultations, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the two countries would “do much more together” to safeguard the safety of the Indo-Pacific region, and this US-Australian partnership will be “grounded in [the] shared values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.”
Pompeo also said that “the United States is a Pacific nation. We care deeply about what happens here and we’re here to stay, and we want all Australians to know they can always rely on the United States of America.”
This was an important statement on foreign affairs in the wake of the US’ July adjustment of its Indo-Pacific Strategy.
The following day, Pompeo visited Micronesia and attended a wreath-laying ceremony with Micronesian President David Panuelo at the Memorial to Federated States of Micronesia Veterans of US Armed Forces, where he said: “The American people are intensely and forever grateful for their sacrifices to defend and advance freedom and unalienable rights all across the world.”
His remarks underline the US’ intention to foil China both internationally and regionally through stabilization or the new establishment of an alliance system, with the Indo-Pacific Strategy serving as crucial support.
The core problem of the various conflicts and disputes between the US and China is the tremendous difference in values.
Prior to the US-China trade war, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger said in his 2015 book World Order that “China rejects the proposition that international order is fostered by the spread of liberal democracy and that the international community has an obligation to bring this about, and especially to achieve its perception of human rights by international action. The United States may be able to adjust the application of its views on human rights in relation to strategic priorities. But in light of its history and the convictions of its people, America can never abandon these principles altogether.”
Indeed, freedom and democracy are values shared by most countries in the Pan-Pacific region, and these values are also the basis for the US’ collaboration with its allies.
More importantly, regional political structures bear significant geopolitical implications. Apart from Taiwan’s strategically crucial location, its most important aspect is its firm stance on defending and safeguarding democracy and freedom.
A crisis can serve as a turning point. Taiwan should seize this opportunity to strengthen its diplomacy using these values to build connections in a proactive bid to join the Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership by adopting a more innovative, agile and practical approach to providing alternative economic aid to the island nations in the South Pacific region.
Taiwan should also adopt a collaborative approach to participate in international cooperation and exchanges on maritime security, disaster response capabilities, humanitarian aid and other issues with the US, Australia, Japan, South Korea and other countries.
Hopefully, cooperation and exchanges will help Taiwan gain more concrete results and international acknowledgment, and develop a position of irreplaceable strategic importance in international society.
Shawn Chen is a retired Republic of China Air Force pilot, and has a master’s degree in strategy and national security from National Chung Cheng University.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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