Seeking peace in the Pacific islands amid US-China security competition
Updated: Jul 8, 2022
By Jasmine Yang
Back in April, the signing of a security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands was declared. The agreement means permanent security support for the Solomon Islands.
Consequently, on May 31, U.S. President Joe Biden had a meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand. The two leaders expressed concerns over the signing of the security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands.
As a response, the U.S. announced that it would strengthen its diplomatic relations with the countries in the Pacific islands.
With the recent progression, both China and the U.S. have shown their eagerness to engage in the security of the Pacific islands to expand their presence in the region.
The Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), a four-nation security dialogue, represents the China-U.S. competition and confrontation.
With the participation of Japan, India and Australia as key partners in the Indo-Pacific region, the Quad as a security system is an essential part of a U.S.-led free and open Indo-Pacific strategy to check China’s rise represented by the One Belt One Road initiative. The U.S. was the traditional power that exerted influence in Oceania until 9/11. However, after 2001, the U.S. turned its foreign policy toward targeting terrorism, which led to a decline in the U.S. influence in the Pacific islands. Instead, China has been in a position to give aid to countries in the region, so its influence filled the empty space once dominated by the U.S. The Chinese intention was understood as its efforts to gain recognition and support from the international society against the U.S.
In this sense, the Chinese foreign policy to establish friendly relations targeted the countries in the Pacific Islands. China’s image as a friend in the region through international aid solidified close diplomatic relations with the countries. As a consequence of the diplomatic ties between China and the Solomon Islands and the government’s pro-Chinese line since April 2019, 30 years of diplomatic relations with Taiwan came to an end.
Then the residents of Malaita Island, which had received support from Taiwan and the U.S,, became dissatisfied. And the residents went to Guadalcanal Island to protest against the central government with its “unfair treatment.”
With the help of Australia and Papua New Guinea, the protest came to a standstill, but the conflict between the pro-Chinese government and pro-Taiwan residents has yet to be resolved.
If the Pacific island countries allow the presence of Chinese troops or the construction of military bases through security agreements, the vigilance of the United States and its partners is expected to increase.
The competition for supremacy of great powers seeking to gain economic, political, and diplomatic benefits is also affecting national security in those countries.
As the national sentiments are also divided, violent domestic conflicts become prevalent and even innocent deaths occur. There is a case in which an island suffered for a long time due to ideological conflicts, such as the Solomon Islands. It is the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.
Mindanao was the site of the largest armed conflict in Southeast Asia. The conflict was a military clash between the Philippine government and Moros in the island, which began in the late 1960s, resulting in more than 120,000 deaths.
Various countries, international organizations and non-governmental organizations working for resolution were engaged after the conflict that caused large-scale casualties; they supported peace and set out peacebuilding efforts. However, the conflict never ended just by signing a peace treaty. HWPL (Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light) initiated mediation to endorse a peace agreement between the conflicting parties in the local communities.
With Man Hee Lee of HWPL as a mediator and witness, the local leaders signed a peace agreement; this agreement at the level of locality different from the one between the government and armed group, asked for the participation of civil society to carry out practical peace activities.
So, by designating a peace day commemorating the peace agreement on Jan. 24, local representatives and citizens hold events to sustain peace and harmony. For long-term peace, HWPL and actors who engaged in peacebuilding carry out cultural and educational approaches to increase a peaceful environment. Security competition intensifies as major powers pay attention to the Pacific islands.
The case in Mindanao raises the need for a recognition that peace can be pursued with constructive engagement based on collaboration among actors in the local, national and international communities.
Peace projects with international support, such as the one from HWPL, are gaining voices from civil society. The current situation in the security competition that raised concerns over the future of the Solomon Islands and the region brings out international cooperation with the cultural approaches to raise awareness and activism among citizens advocating peace. (HWPL)