The Japan Forum on International Relations


This paper presents a commentary on the position and actions in the Pacific Island region for China’s power sphere competition, based on my remarks presented at the FY2023 meeting of the Japan International Forum study group on “The Future of the Sino-Russian Sphere of Influence Concept and Japan’s Response: Implications for Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Oceania, and the Global South.”

The ultimate objective of this study group for FY2025 is re-evaluation of both the risks and opportunities posed by the mutual approach of China and Russia as part of an analysis of regional trends in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Pacific. An additional goal is exploration of the challenges and prospects for securing the comprehensive capabilities of Japan while overviewing its strengths and weaknesses. Subsequently, as a researcher of Chinese diplomacy and international relations, I examin the position and current status of the Pacific Island countries in China’s sphere of influence competition in 2023, the first year of this study group.

In the Pacific Island region, attitudes toward Japan differ greatly among countries and sub-regions within the sphere of influence structure of the United States (US), Australia, and China. For example, the Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM) Preparatory Meeting was held in Fiji on February 12, 2024, ahead of the tenth session of PALM in Tokyo in July 2024. PALM comprises Japan and 18 South Pacific countries and regions, with meetings having been held in Japan every three years since 1997. They confirmed the importance of adhering to the rules-based international order. Foreign ministers from only six countries other than Japan, including Palau, represented by Foreign Minister Gustav Aitaro, participated in the preparatory meeting, whereas Minister of Foreign Affairs Jeremiah Manele from the Solomon Islands, which has rapidly deepened ties with China in recent years, was absent because of ill health. He was replaced for the meeting by Colin Beck, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade. From Kiribati, the Chargé d’Affaires of the High Commissioner to Fiji, Tukab Tauwati, participated in the meeting. This paper presents examinations of these three countries, all holding quite different outlooks on Japan: Palau, Kiribati, and the Solomon Islands.

This paper is presented with the following structure. The first half describes an exploration of China’s trends and intentions related to the issue of the extended continental shelf of the Kyushu-Palau Ridge, which is important for Japan’s national interests, with discussion of the risks which Japan might face. In the second half, China’s actions in Kiribati and the Solomon Islands are examined. Both are important in the competition for spheres of influence between the US, Australia, and China. Finally, the risk China poses for the US and Australia is explained.

1. The China Risk of the Kyushu-Palau Ridge: Struggle over the Second Island Chain

As a maritime power, Japan has vast territorial waters, exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and continental shelves. An important issue for the Pacific Island nations, both for the security of Japanese resources and for the regional security around Taiwan and the Philippine Sea, is the China risk posed to the extended continental shelf of the Kyushu-Palau Ridge.

◆ Palau in the Second Island Chain

Oceania is broadly divisible into Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, Australia, and New Zealand. The Republic of Palau, in the westernmost part of Micronesia, is in the second island chain, which China regards as a line of defense. The waters around the second island chain surround Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands, which have a Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the US : an arrangement by which the US secures exclusive access to the region in exchange for financial assistance and full defense responsibility.

The second island chain extends from the Izu Islands in Japan to Guam, Saipan, and Papua New Guinea. The inner first island chain, which is considered the minimum line of defense off the coast of Kyushu, runs through Okinawa, Taiwan, and the Philippines to the South China Sea. China is executing a strategy to prevent US forces from entering the second island chain and to deter US military activity within the first island chain. In other words, this is the so-called “Anti-Access/Area Denial” line. That is, for China, the Micronesia region, including the Republic of Palau, is a zone within which the Chinese military can prevent and obstruct US military reinforcements in the event of an emergency in the East China Sea or in the South China Sea.

In this context, one can argue that the Chinese oceanographic research vessel Taiyang and the “Maritime Militia,” a paramilitary organization composed of veterans and fishermen, have a mission other than economic activities to acquire marine resources. Article 1 of China’s Oceanographic Research Vessel Ordinance stipulates that “he oceanographic research vessels of the State Oceanic Administration have the primary mission of conducting oceanographic surveys and research, with the glorious task of directly contributing to the country’s economic construction, defense construction and diplomatic work.” In other words, the Chinese research vessel Taiyang has a mission that combines military and civilian issues. China has developed a national defense mobilization system that uses civilian resources for military purposes in peacetime and emergencies. At the first meeting of the Central Military-Civil Fusion Development Committee in 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized maritime efforts as one of the priority areas of military-civilian fusion.[1]

Observations have been made that Chinese vessels frequently enter Palau’s EEZ without prior permission from the Palau government, conducting activities that appear to be surveys by throwing wires from the vessels into the sea. In reaction to these activities, Palau President Surangel S. Whipps called on the US government in June 2023 to strengthen patrols by the existing coast guard and civilian operation teams, signaling that they would welcome a US military presence. A spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained at a regular press conference that the Chinese vessels had evacuated to those waters and were not conducting maritime reconnaissance or investigations.[2] Nevertheless, images of people on board a Chinese vessel apparently throwing devices into the sea have been presented by many media outlets around the world.

China’s activities on the Kyushu-Palau Ridge are not limited to exploration of seabed resources. They are believed to be collecting data related to the topography, depth, and currents of the seafloor necessary for Chinese submarine operations in the waters of the second island chain. Moreover, passage by the Chinese satellite observation vessel Yuanwang in Palau’s EEZ has been confirmed on several occasions. The US Department of Defense believes that the vessel is monitoring the movements of the US military because Yuanwang operates under the command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Strategic Support Force. It is able to track not only satellites but also long-range missiles. The Strategic Support Force, which handles space, cyber, and electronic warfare, was newly established at the end of December 2015 out of necessity for a different type of organization because information warfare, including space warfare, is being conducted far from China. Consequently, the Strategic Support Force organization is expected to play a central role in improving China’s joint operational capabilities to win the information war.[3]

Moreover, it is necessary to devote attention to a high-capacity optical submarine cable connecting Asia and the US runs through this area. Submarine cables are useful for information blocking and hacking. The importance of submarine cables in the region is illustrated by their status as the first project implemented under the Japan-US-Australia partnership for infrastructure investment in the Indo-Pacific, a “symbolic project” by Japan, the US, and Australia to promote a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” The project involves the construction of a new submarine cable from the main line of the new submarine cable system between the US and Singapore to Palau as a branch line.[4] For this project, funded by the Asian Development Bank, the Nippon Electric Company (NEC) portion of manufacturing is handled by OCC as the only subsidiary of NEC in Japan capable of manufacturing optical submarine cables that able to withstand water pressure at 8,000 meters depths..[5]

◆ The Extended Continental Shelf and Sovereign Rights

China puts its own interests ahead of compliance with international law. In many cases, where China’s claimed interests are not recognized, it has chosen to neglect international law instead. In 2016, when an arbitral tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) rejected China’s claim to sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, Chinese officials referred to international law as “scrap paper.” Simultaneously, China is trying to use the UNCLOS as a means to prevent Japan from exercising its sovereign rights over the seabed resources of its extended continental shelf (priority rights for exploration, exploitation, and extraction) and to expand China’s interests.

Article 76 of UNCLOS defines the “continental shelf” of a coastal state as the seabed and what is under it in an area below sea level beyond the state’s territorial sea, up to 200 nautical miles from the baselines of the territorial sea. Article 76 of UNCLOS also states that if the continental shelf limits extend beyond 200 nautical miles, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) stipulates that a coastal state may establish an extended continental shelf if the state submits information in accordance with the relevant provisions of UNCLOS and the “Scientific and Technical Guidelines” adopted by the CLCS. Recommendations are made to the effect that that the continental shelf limits are topographically and geologically connected. The limits of the continental shelf established by the coastal states based on such recommendations shall be final and binding.

Article 77 of UNCLOS also recognizes the “sovereign rights” of coastal states to their continental shelf to explore and exploit their natural resources (minerals and other non-living resources, as well as settled organisms). Article 77(2) of UNCLOS provides that even if a coastal state does not explore its continental shelf or exploit its natural resources, it is “exclusive” in the sense that no one else can carry out such activities without the express consent of the coastal state.

◆ Postponement of CLCS Recommendations for Japan’s Application for an Extended Continental Shelf and Palau’s Extension Application

In November 2008, the Japanese government applied for an extension of its continental shelf to seven areas of the Pacific Ocean. In April 2012, an extended continental shelf of about 310,000 square km, which is more than 80% of Japan’s land area, was approved (*On December 22, 2023, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced at a meeting of the Headquarters for Ocean Policy that about 120,000 square km, which is a large part of the Ogasawara Kaitai Sea area east of Chichijima Island in the Ogasawara Islands and which is expected to be rich in rare metals, will be designated as part of the Japanese continental shelf). Among the areas for which Japan has applied for an extended continental shelf, two areas include the southern part of the Kyushu-Palau Ridge and the Shikoku Basin area, including the area around Okinotorishima Island. Most of the Shikoku Basin, located in the northern part of the Philippine Sea, was recognized, but the CLCS recommendations were postponed because of Chinese and South Korean objections to the Kyushu-Palau Ridge, which runs approximately 2,600 km from Palau to Okinotorishima Island and off the coast of Hyuga Sea in Kyushu, arguing that Okinotorishima Island cannot be called an “island.” Palau reapplied for the same area in 2017, with Japanese support.

◆ Illegal Surveys by Chinese Vessels and the Publication of a Paper Rejecting Geological Continuity

Surveys of the formation of the Philippine Sea Plate have shown that the Kyushu-Palau Ridge was once a single arc connecting the Izu-Ogasawara-Mariana islands, which were divided about 30 million to 15 million years ago.[6] Moreover, Japan’s Maritime Intelligence Division under the Japan Coast Guard and other organizations have scientifically clarified that although the velocity structure under the Kyushu-Palau Ridge varies greatly from north to south along the ridge axis, it has a thicker island arc crust under the ridge elevation compared to the oceanic crusts of the Shikoku and Parece Vela basins east of the ridge and the West Philippine Basin to the west.[7]

Nevertheless, in recent years, China has conducted extensive surveys in Japan’s EEZ using state of the art equipment without obtaining permission from Japan (*Surveys conducted without permission from the coastal state are UNCLOS violations), based on which they continue to publish papers rejecting the topographical and geological continuity between the Kyushu and Palau Ridges by claiming that the velocity structure of the southern part of the Kyushu-Palau Ridge is similar to that of the adjacent West Philippine Basin and Parece Vela Basi, arguing that it is a typical oceanic crust rather than an island arc crust.[8]

◆ The Chinese CLCS Vice Chairman “Contributing to Chinese National Policy” in the Palau Case

The CLCS comprises expert members specializing in geology, geophysics, and hydrography, selected based on “individual qualifications.” The CLCS members, who serve five-year terms, are elected by the Conference of the Parties to UNCLOS. The 2023‒2028 CLCS is chaired by Aldino Campos from Portugal and is vice-chaired by Antonio Fernando Garcez Faria from Brazil, Simon Njuguna from Kenya, and Tang Yong from China.[9] Japan is represented by Professor Toshitsugu Yamazaki of the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute of the University of Tokyo and Advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, elected as a committee member in 2017 and re-elected in 2022.

Although CLCS members are presumed to perform their duties in an “individual capacity,” Tang Yong, who was nominated and elected by China to serve as vice chairman of the Palau Subcommittee on the project, is a well-known figure who has contributed to Chinese national policy by leading various projects in China’s national key research and development programs. Tang Yong has studied the Japanese EEZ based on Okinotorishima Island for more than 20 years as part of the surveys of the Chinese research vessel Taiyang; . However, in addition to conducting surveys with Taiyang in the Japanese EEZ without obtaining permission from the Japanese government, he has denied that Okinotorishima Island is an island in numerous books and papers. Tang constructed a P-wave velocity model along the Kyushu-Palau Ridge using deep reflective/refractive seismic data recorded by submarine seismographs on the crustal structure and characteristics of the southern part of the Kyushu-Palau Ridge, comparing the results with those of the Izu-Ogasawara-Mariana island arc (the island arc forming the boundary between the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean). He has continued to publish papers claiming the crustal structure of the Kyushu-Palau Ridge as “an oceanic crust without an island arc crust.”[10]

The oceanographic physicist Tang Yong has served as a professor and doctoral supervisor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and at Zhejiang University, as well as director of the EEZ and Continental Shelf Research Center of the Second Institute of Oceanography, Ministry of Natural Resources. Tang, who has been researching depictions of the outer delimitation of the extended continental shelf, owns several patents and software copyrights related to outer continental shelf depiction. He has also participated in double-digit expeditions conducted for Chinese marine research projects. Since his election as a CLCS member in 2019, Tang, who has been involved in projects closely linked to Chinese national policies, has participated in reviews of projects submitted by both Palau and India as a subcommittee vice chair.[11]

As China’s efforts to block the recommendations for an extended continental shelf of the Kyushu-Palau Ridge continue, Tang, the “Chinese candidate,” was re-elected as a CLCS member for 2023‒2028 at the 32nd session of the Conference of the Parties to UNCLOS held on June 15, 2022. At a regular press conference the day after Tang’s re-election, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin commented, “The CLCS was established under UNCLOS and is in charge of reviewing proposals for the coastal overseas continental shelves, and China has always attached great importance to and strongly supports the activities of the CLCS,” and “I am confident that the Chinese member will contribute actively to the activities of the CLCS.”[12] The phrase “actively contribute to the activities of the CLCS” by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can be interpreted as an attempt to block the CLCS’s recommendations for the extended continental shelf of the Kyushu-Palau Ridge.

2. The China Risk to the Solomon Islands and Kiribati: Struggle over the Third Island Chain

◆ The Solomon Islands and Kiribati are Viewed by China as Central in the Struggle over the “Third Island Chain”

China is laying bare its maritime ambitions.[13] It is expanding its presence in the “third island chain” in Oceania through economic power and dredgers.

China’s line of defense through the Aleutian Islands, Hawaii, American Samoa in the South Pacific, and New Zealand, i.e, the military line over Hawaii, where the US Indo-Pacific Command is located, is called the “Third Island Chain.” A battle over this “third island chain” is being waged in Oceania. The Pacific Island states cover only 0.4% of the world’s land area, but their EEZs account for 13% of Earth’s surface area. Chinese officials and media have repeatedly asserted that the US is playing a game on a giant chessboard of geopolitical strategy with a Cold War mentality, pushing the world toward division and confrontation. However, contrary to such claims, it is China that is currently on the offensive in the race for spheres of influence in the region.

Development assistance from the international community plays a major role in management of the island nations of the Pacific region, operating from a weak economic base. Particularly, China is placing special geopolitical emphasis on the Solomon Islands in Melanesia and the Republic of Kiribati in Micronesia. The two strategically located countries are classified by the UN as “least developed countries” although the Solomon Islands are expected to leave this group in 2024.[14] “Small Island Developing States” are countries listed by the UN for which land comprises small islands that are vulnerable to rising sea levels because of global warming with land is difficult to develop sustainably because of vulnerabilities caused by the countries’ inherent difficulties such as small population, remoteness, , and natural disasters.[15]

Australia’s Lowy Institute has been publishing an annual report on economic aid to the Pacific Island states (Pacific Aid Map) since 2018. The 2023 report, released in October 2022, states that China is particularly emphasizing relations with the Solomon Islands and Kiribati among the Pacific Island states. In 2021, China’s total aid to the island nations was 6% of the total aid provided by all countries and international organizations around the world, but it was higher, at 10% for the Solomon Islands and 16% for Kiribati.[16] Despite the decline in Chinese aid to the island nations since reaching a peak in 2016, China is particularly addressing strategic locations: the Solomon Islands and Kiribati.

Although Pacific Island nations are increasingly dependent on international loans, the region is experiencing a decline in grant aid and growth in other government funding (ODF). According to a report published by the Lowy Institute in January 2024, the Asian Development Bank, China, Australia, Japan, and the World Bank respectively accounted for 24.0%, 19.2%, 16.6%, 15.5%, and 7.5% during 2008 2021.[17] Chinese funds constitute one-fifth of infrastructure construction support. However, China’s presence in climate change projects, excluding infrastructure construction, is not extensive. One can say that China has been investing funds in bilateral assistance effectively by particularly emphasizing infrastructure construction.

[1] Republic of Kiribati

◆ The “Recapture” of Kiribati, Strategically Positioned for “Space Surveillance”

The Republic of Kiribati, a small country of 33 islands near the equator in the South Pacific Ocean, covering an area of only 720 square km, about the size of Tsushima, Japan. Those small islands of Kiribati comprise three distinct island groups, the Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix Islands, and the Line Islands, each with its own vast EEZ: collectively, they constitute the third largest EEZ in the world, with about 3.35 million square km.[18] Approximately half of the population lives on the island of South Tarawa, where the capital city is located. It is rich in resources for many migratory fish, including tuna and bonito. Its main exports are marine products. However, climate change and rising sea levels are chipping away at the islands’ coastlines, spurring a World Bank warning that many lowland dwellers will be forced to migrate during this century. In 2015, Kiribati people applied for asylum in New Zealand because of climate change: their application was rejected. In Kiribati, which is at great risk of flooding, China has proposed a large-scale dredging project that will include reclamation and expansion of the seabed at two major ports.

As Forbes warned in 2022, with “Kiribati’s liaison with China threatens sushi and US security,”[19] Kiribati’s shift in diplomacy toward China has strongly affected both geopolitics and the fishing industry.

In fact, Kiribati, which straddles both the equator and the 180th meridian, is the only country in the world with islands located in the north, south, east, and west quadrants of the globe. Kiribati’s location just below the equator is expected to be of great importance to China’s space strategy because the closer the launch site of a satellite or rocket is to the equator, the smaller the orbital inclination angle can be used, leading to less energy required to control the orbital plane change. Especially when launching heavy satellites and rockets into orbit, it is desirable to launch them from near the equator. Moreover, if satellites and rockets are launched from near the equator, the Earth’s speed of rotation is maximally useful. In other words, for China, bringing Kiribati into its sphere of influence has brought invaluable benefits to China’s space activities.

China established diplomatic relations with Kiribati on June 25, 1980, and established a space monitoring station (also reported to be a “space tracking station” or “satellite monitoring station”) in the capital, Tarawa, in 1997. Approximately 1,000 km from Tarawa is Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site (also known as the Reagan Test Site or Kwajalein Launch Site) is located. Today, it is used as a research facility for US missile defense and space development. When China launched its first manned spacecraft in October 2003, it used this space observation station in Tarawa. However, relations between China and Kiribati took a turn for the worse with the election of Anote Tong, who had called during the presidential election campaign in July, 2003 for “appropriate action at the right time” to review the space monitoring station which Kiribati leased to China during the presidential election campaign in July of the same year. When the Anote Tong administration established diplomatic relations with Taiwan because of dissatisfaction with the lack of economic support from China,[20] the Chinese government announced a suspension of diplomatic relations with Kiribati on November 29, 2003. This “severance” led to the blockade of the Tarawa space monitoring station.[21] However, China has been actively engaged in diplomacy with Pacific Island countries since around 2006. President Taneti Maamau, who took office in January 2016, severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan and normalized diplomatic relations with China in September 2019.

Some also argue that China is trying to use the “recapture” of Kiribati to restart the Tarawa space monitoring base to monitor the movements of US missile bases and submarines, improve information and communication facilities, and use the nation as a supply base for Chinese ships. Kiribati’s Christmas Island (Kiritimati) is approximately 2,000 km from the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where the US Indo-Pacific Command is located. Although the two are far apart, Kiritimati is said to provide unique geographical benefits for tracking and monitoring US military deployments throughout the vast Pacific.[22]

◆ Alarm Bells Sounding over the Construction of “Fixed Aircraft Carriers” In the Name of Tackling Climate Change

The specific plan according to which China might use Kiribati militarily remains unclear. However, it is not the navy which plays the main part when China, aiming to become a “maritime power,” is increasing its presence in the world’s oceans, including the waters around Japan. It is Chinese dredgers and the research vessels. China’s dredging industry, which has become the world’s largest, has become an important political tool for expansion of the Chinese sphere of influence.

The average elevation of Kiribati is as low as 2 meters. Consequently, Kiribati’s long-term development vision “Kiribati 20-Year Vision” covers the period of 2016‒2036 to address the country’s vulnerability to rising sea levels caused by global warming. It specifies land use plans for Tarawa (Temic, Bikenibeu, Bailiqui, Betio, and the Lagoon in the east), Kiritimati, Tabuaela, Teraina, and other areas, to raise embankments through land reclamation and to develop 767 acres of land by 2036.[23] China has joined forces with the Maamau administration in Kiribati to promote the construction of artificial islands to prevent the country’s submersion and implement the “Kiribati 20-Year Vision” of building an international hub port for industrial development.

Chinese dredgers have reclaimed small reefs beneath the surface of the South China Sea at high tide with sand sucked up from the seabed, creating artificial islands with huge military fortifications. It may be assumed that China’s dredging and construction capabilities are attractive to Kiribati because it faces climate-change-related destruction attributable to rising sea levels and submersion if no countermeasures are used.

In January 2020, Kiribati President Maamau visited China. The two countries signed documents such as the “Memorandum of Understanding on Joint Construction of the Belt and Road” to guide the linking of the “Belt and Road Initiative” and the “Kiribati 20-Year Vision.” The two countries also agreed to strengthen cooperation and exchanges in the fields of economy, trade, agriculture, fisheries, and infrastructure and to achieve sustainable development and mutual prosperity.[24] The land use plans in the “Kiribati 20-Year Vision” state clearly that they aim for commercial and industrial development while also specifying “raising the atolls,” which connotes large-scale land reclamation as an adaptation to climate change.

Regarding this point, Steve Raaymakers of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute[25] has indicated out that China is trying to gain control of important sea lanes across the Pacific under the guise of assisting with economic development and climate change. Raaymakers also warned that the construction of large islands and the development of trans-shipment hubs are increasing the likelihood that Chinese military bases, or at least initially potential dual-use facilities, will be set up along the equator across the center of the Pacific, making Kiribati a Chinese de facto “fixed aircraft carrier” in the name of economic development and support for climate action.[26]

[2] Solomon Islands

◆ The Solomon Islands at a Geopolitical Juncture

Guadalcanal, situated along a straight line drawn between Hawaii and Australia, is the largest island in the Solomon Islands and is home to the country’s capital, Honiara. For the Japanese, who have studied the Battle of Guadalcanal during the Pacific War in history classes, the geopolitical position of Guadalcanal Island is notably important.

The Solomon Islands covers an area of about 28,900 square km, which is approximately two times the size of Japan’s Iwate prefecture and 1.5 times the size of Shikoku, but its EEZ is 1.35 million square km, the third largest in the South Pacific.[27] This area is equivalent to about one-third of the 4.05 million square km area of the maritime power Japan’s EEZs (including contiguous zones).[28] Toshi Yoshihara, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in the US, analyzed papers published by China’s National Defense University and the Academy of Military Sciences as well as other publications to put together the report Chinese Lessons from the Pacific War: Implications for PLA Warfighting in January 2023. In this report, Yoshihara points out that research on the Pacific War in the 20th century has been conducted actively as “China building up to become a world-class army” and that analyses of the Battle of Guadalcanal have yielded recommendations on the importance of supplies, including the establishment of forward bases, and the need for supply carriers.[29]

In its first National Security Strategy released on August 4, 2023, the New Zealand government expressed strong concern about China’s ambitions to expand its influence in the Pacific Island region, citing China’s signing of a security pact with the Solomon Islands and that China’s cooperation in the developing ports and airports in the region could engender military-civilian collaboration and future military bases.[30]

◆ Anti-government Protests and the “Protection” of Chinese Companies and People

The Solomon Islands, which is located at a strategic geopolitical point, has received economic assistance from Taiwan from the time they established diplomatic relations in 1983. However, since 2019, the Solomon Islands have been tilting towards China.

On April 24, 2019, as a result of the general election following the expiration of the prime minister’s term, Manasseh Sogavare, who had been prime minister three times in the past, once again became prime minister. Immediately after taking office, Prime Minister Sogavare announced that he would “review foreign relations based on national interests” and appealed for support from the US, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and Taiwan. However, although he dispatched a foreign minister to Taiwan in early September of 2019, he clarified that “Taiwan is useless” even before the foreign minister returned. On September 16, the Solomon government announced that it would break off diplomatic relations with Taiwan and restore diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. On September 23, the Solomon Islands established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

The severance of relations with Taiwan and the commencement of diplomatic relations with China have deepened the rift in the Solomon Islands, which consists of six major islands and some 1,000 volcanic and coral islands. Ethnic conflict persists between Malaita Island, the country’s most populous island, and Guadalcanal Island, where Honiara and the seat of government are situated, escalating into severe social unrest, with feuds remaining even after pacification. There are many pro-China advocates in the former group and many pro-Taiwan advocates in the latter. In response to the Sogavare administration’s severance of relations with Taiwan and recognition of China amid such social conflicts, protests broke out among residents of Malaita, the most populous province. In November 2021, approximately 1,000 protesters from a group calling for “Malaita for Democracy” gathered in front of the parliament building in Honiara to demand dialogue with Prime Minister Sogavare. They were dissatisfied with unequal economic development, including high unemployment and housing shortages. Sogavare was not present, but he instructed the police to fire teargas at the crowd, causing some angry demonstrators to loot and set fire to Chinatown, thereby, turning the demonstration into a riot. Young people from villages on the outskirts of Honiara, where there is no water supply, also took part in the riots.

China called on the Solomon government to take all available measures to protect Chinese companies and people. The Solomon government requested Australia and other countries to “support the Solomon Police Department’s efforts to restore security.” In response, 100 police officers and soldiers from Australia, 50 peacekeepers from Papua New Guinea, and 50 troops from Fiji were dispatched, after which the riots subsided.

Prime Minister Sogavare, who was held responsible, was subjected to a vote of no confidence on December 6, 2021. Opposition leader and Member of Parliament Matthew Wale revealed through the Solomon National Parliament’s Budget Committee that the Sogavare administration had distributed 20.9 million SBD in Chinese funds to 39 of the 50 members of the National Parliament on two separate occasions in November and December.[31] Consequently, the vote of no confidence was rejected by 15 votes in favor, 32 against, and 2 abstentions, thereby ensuring the continuation of the Sogavare administration.

In December, an agreement was reached between the Chinese and Solomon governments on the acceptance of police personnel and equipment from China, with the Chinese training the Solomon Police in anti-riot techniques for several months. Dr. Euan Graham, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that if they are deployed on a mission, there is concern that Prime Minister Sogavare’s political opponents will be subjected to surveillance and arrest and that Chinese police contingents or in the future the PLA ground force will be able to protect ethnic Chinese Solomon Islanders, “within the scope of extraterritorial authority.”[32]

◆ Strengthening Interference in Internal Affairs in the Name of “Maintaining Social Order”

Under these circumstances, the Sogavare administration in the Solomon Islands covertly proceeded to enter into a security pact with China. According to an explanation at a regular press conference in March 2022, where China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the signing of an agreement between the two countries, after the outbreak of social riots in the Solomon Islands in November 2021, China responded to the country’s request by providing police supplies and dispatching temporary police advisors to help strengthen police capacity.[33] In response to the “positive outcomes of these cooperation measures” for both countries, they concluded a security pact and established an enforcement system in the Solomon Islands to contain anti-China and anti-Sogavare forces.

The draft, which was leaked on social media in March 2022, stated that information related to the cooperation cannot be disclosed to third parties without mutual consent in writing, that the Solomon Islands can request China to dispatch troops and police to maintain social order, and that China can call at ports of the islands and resupply ships with the consent of the Solomon Islands and that it can exercise relevant powers to protect Chinese staff and projects. The agreement, which Prime Minister Sogavare said was “an agreement with the Solomon Islands Parliament,” has not been made public, which is something the US and Australian governments have called for. The contents are believed to be similar to what was leaked on social media. It has been revealed that the agreement also includes “protection of Chinese citizens and companies.”

At a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele in Honiara, Solomon Islands on May 26, 2022, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi explained that the Framework Agreement on Security Cooperation between the two countries aims to help improve the police and law enforcement capabilities of the Solomon Islands, support its maintenance of social security, and protect the security of Chinese citizens and institutions present there, thereby clarifying the “three principles for China promoting security cooperation with the Solomon Islands.” As for the second principle, Foreign Minister Wang Yi clarified that the purpose of security cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands is “to lawfully maintain social order with the law at the request of the Solomon Islands” and “to help the Solomon Islands strengthen its police capacity, rectify deficiencies in security governance, and maintain internal stability and long-term peace.”[34]

On November 2, 2022, the Australian Federal Police donated 60 rifles and 13 vehicles to the Solomon Islands. Two days later, China responded by donating 2 water cannons, 30 motorcycles, and 20 sport utility vehicles to the Solomon Police following a request from the Sogavare administration, saying that it would “contribute to the enforcement of law and order in the Solomon Islands at the request of the Sogavare administration.”[35] The current boosting of police equipment in the Solomon Islands, where there are no concerns about any military invasion from abroad, is nothing more than a strengthening of arms against its own citizens. The Chinese and Australian bargaining over the Solomon Islands has led to a buildup of equipment to suppress the Islands’ anti-government forces.

As China sought to bring in the political and administrative elite of the Solomon Islands, the Malaita provincial government was criticized for refusing to accept Huawei’s mobile phone base stations and succumbing to Chinese overtures. Moreover, one media outlets in Honiara had a Chinese liaison to ensure that the reporting was in line with the Chinese government’s propaganda. Critics of Sogavare’s close ties with China were eliminated by the two through bribery and extortion. For example, Daniel Suidani, the governor of Malaita Province, was critical of China. He was then dismissed as governor of Malaita on February 7, 2023 at the behest of the Sogavare administration for refusing to accept bribes worth a total of 1 million SBD (about 120,000 USD) from Chinese agents, which he revealed in an interview with Radio Free Asia and other outlets. By then, two motions for the dismissal of Governor Suidani which had been filed in Malaita Province were withdrawn because of strong protests from provincial citizens. However, in a third motion on February 7, 2023, the central government of the Solomon Islands suppressed protests using patrol boats, firearms, and police to block roads.[36]

Martin Fini, an independent who succeeded Suidani on February 10, 2023, and a Malaita provincial delegation paid a courtesy call to Ambassador Li Ming on the March 27, stating that the new Malaita provincial government would support the Chinese central government in developing relations with China, adhere to the “One China” principle, and seek dialogue and cooperation with China.[37] China is switching the local political elites of the Pacific Island nations from pro-Taiwan to pro-China factions, implementing policies in its favor.

◆ “Exporting” a Law Enforcement System to Eliminate Anti-China Forces, Media Control, and Manipulation of Public Opinion

China and the Solomon Islands announced that they had formally established a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Mutual Respect, Common Development in the New Era” on July 10, 2023. On the same day, the two signed an agreement to cooperate in security maintenance as part of their efforts to strengthen relations toward a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.” The agreement on a comprehensive strategic partnership between the Sogavare administration and China is not limited to merely strengthening cooperation between the Belt and Road Initiative and the Solomon Islands 2035 Development Strategy. It has been stated clearly that the two countries “adhere to true multilateralism, firmly adhere to international impartiality and justice, oppose hegemonism and authoritarianism, oppose all forms of unilateralism, oppose the formation of camps and exclusive factions against specific countries.”[38] This relationship with the Solomon Islands is squarely positioned within the sphere of influence competition between the US and China. Moreover, as part of adhering to these stated objectives, it has been stated explicitly that “China will continue to support the Solomon Islands to improve the law enforcement capacity of its police in accordance with the wishes of the Solomon Islands.” In other words, China is “exporting” a law enforcement system to the Solomon Islands that can eliminate forces which are critical of its administrators.

Simultaneously, Shailendra Bahadur Singh, an associate professor in charge of the journalism program at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, claims that China controls Solomon Islands media outlets, stifling critical speech and funneling money to mainstream media outlets to report information in its favor. The Solomon Star, a leading daily newspaper in the Solomon Islands, allegedly received about 140,000 USD in exchange for “promoting the truth about China’s generosity,” which the Solomon Star used to replace an aging printer and acquire a radio tower for a radio station. Moreover, Radio Free Asia has reported that the Chinese embassy did not deny that the Island Sun, the second-largest daily newspaper in the Solomon Islands, and the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation had also received funds from China.[39]

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun has reported that whenever anti-China sentiment rises in the Solomon Islands, unverified “rumors” originating from Chinese media outlets and other sources spread, shifting online public opinion toward a pro-China line.[40] Ever since Xi Jinping issued the order to “speak well of China” (讲好中国故事), Chinese major media outlets, officials, and online influencers have been pouring out information to sway international public opinion in favor of China.

Simultaneously, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and others have pointed out that China disparages hostile and unfriendly forces by disseminating large amounts of fake news. For example, during the 2021 Malaita riots, a large amount of fake news claimed that the US, Australia, and Taiwan had financed and incited the riots, and that neither the US nor Australia is interested in the Solomon Islands or willing to cooperate for sustainable development in the Solomon Islands, thereby fueling distrust of the US and Australia. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials also actively promoted the theory that “foreign powers with hidden motives” are seeking to destroy relations between the Solomon Islands and China, particularly implicating the US and Australia.

Manipulating public opinion through fake news is one tactic employed in international politics, as evidenced by how researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have verified that fake news on Twitter spreads six times faster than real news.[41] The Chinese government is using influencers on social media to spread the claims put forward by China and the CCP, seeking to steer public opinion in the Pacific region in a direction that is favorable to them. They combine propaganda and censorship to manipulate public opinion through information.

Solomon and Chinese officials have repeatedly made statements to incite Solomon Islanders to be disdainful of the US, Australia, and Japan, which have then been reported repeatedly by the Solomon media. For example, in a speech to Parliament on April 29, 2022, Prime Minister Sogavare criticized the US, the United Kingdom, and Australia for creating a security partnership (AUKUS) without consulting the Pacific Island countries, after which China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs praised Sogavare’s remarks at a regular press conference on May 5 as follows: “Some countries have formed small groups to join militarily, inciting confrontation between camps and causing regional tension” in addition to “Rather than heavy-handedly interfering in the Solomon Islands, the US, which left behind unexploded ordnance in the Solomon Islands during World War II, should seriously fulfill its promises and do more for the citizens of the Solomon Islands,”[42] “It is disrespectful for Australia to claim the sovereign Solomon Islands as its ‘backyard,’” and “Australia is increasing the risk of nuclear proliferation with AUKUS, which is causing regional tension, as the US and Australia are trying to achieve regional hegemony.”[43] The Sogavare administration in the Solomon Islands and China are trying to build anti-American public opinion in the Pacific Island nation by repeatedly criticizing Australia and the US, following each other’s cues.



As described herein the Pacific Island nations of Palau, Kiribati, and the Solomon Islands were examined, yielding implications for them and for trends in Chinese diplomacy.

The competition for spheres of influence in the Pacific region among “the US, Australia + Japan vs. China” is not simply a matter of the social and economic presence of major powers. It has implications for widely various areas, including security in the Indo-Pacific and freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in the Pacific Island nations. China has used vast monetary resources to pull in Solomon politicians, bureaucrats, and media outlets, increasingly subduing local anti-government protests and eliminating disobedient media and journalists.

Those Chinese efforts and their inroads notwithstanding, the sphere of influence competition between “the US and Australia + Japan vs. China” will not necessarily end in a Chinese victory. In the Solomon Islands, pro-China leader Sogavare talked about his re-election campaign on February 13, 2024, announcing a “Look North” strategy to deepen security and economic ties with China while maintaining traditional allies such as Australia. Small countries in the Pacific are not simply at the mercy of the great powers. To protect their own interests and political positions, they use great power competition in their local power struggles. The West must to understand the internal political situations of the island nations and devise tactics that exert and benefit from the leverage they can provide. For the West to “retake” geopolitical positions such as the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, it is necessary not only to implement excellent policies such as greenhouse gas reduction to realize a decarbonized society but also to develop infrastructure that supports local employment and measures against rising sea levels. Reconsideration of our diplomatic strategy toward the Pacific Island countries is necessary, including advertising of the disposal of unexploded ordnance from the Pacific War (Japan and the US are actually doing this, but as described above, China is spreading negative information. Consequently, Japan and the US must also advertise their progress.), promptly disseminating “correct information” via social media, and providing multifaceted support to media outlets and journalists who advocate local democracy.

The importance of Kiribati is growing in the current sphere of influence competition among “the US, Australia + Japan vs. China,” with the fierce deployment of space, cyber, and cognitive warfare. The West should also devote attention to the fact that China, which has won over Kiribati, where the equator and the 180th meridian intersect, is building up its satellite capabilities against the US along with Russia in anticipation of a space race among the three countries. Now that China and Russia have transformed space into a new area of operations, cooperation between the US and its allies and friends is crucially important to address this vast space. Japan must accelerate cooperation with these countries in terms of Space Domain Awareness, which monitors space threats and building relevant systems. Simultaneously, it is necessary to develop tactics to pull geopolitically important Pacific Island nations out of China’s sphere of influence, or even if it is not possible to pull them out, to lure them out of China’s camp by providing them with support which leads to local employment.

Moreover, in recognition that international organizations are not only a “forum for multilateral cooperation” but also “for struggles of interests among major powers,” it is necessary for Japanese governments, media, and think tanks to disseminate more information domestically and internationally about whether CLCS discussions are proceeding in a neutral manner. As China-Russia relations have deepened since the war in Ukraine, Japan must monitor China–Russia cooperation carefully and formulate countermeasures related to the China risk related to the extended continental shelf of the Kyushu-Palau Ridge and what statements Russia can be expected to make on behalf of China at the CLCS. Ivan F. Glumov, a Russian professor of technical sciences at Moscow State University, who has also served as deputy minister of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, has been a member of the CLCS since 2012.

This paper presents an examination of the implications for Pacific Island states in China’s competition to expand its sphere of influence, particularly addressing Palau, Kiribati, and the Solomon Islands. These three countries differ greatly in their positions and implications within the context of Chinese foreign and security strategy. An online comparative study, including a study by Blake Johnson of the Strategic Policy Institute in Australia, of the sub-regions of Pacific Island nations in Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia has revealed important differences among sub-regions in how people perceive the involvement of China and the CCP in their countries.[44] During the remaining two years of research of this study group, I would like to incorporate the results of such studies into my examination of the risks posed by China in the sphere of influence competition in Oceania and the consequent challenges faced by confronting Japanese diplomacy.

(Originally published on February 14, 2024)


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[2] 中华人民共和国外交部”2023年6月15日外交部发言人汪文斌主持例行记者会” June 15, 2023,[]。
[3] Kevin L. Pollpeter, Michael S. Chase, Eric Heginbotham, The Creation of the PLA Strategic Support Force and Its Implications for Chinese Military Space Operations, RAND [].
[4] Nippon Electric Company, “NEC Concludes Supply Agreement for the Palau Optical Submarine Cable ‘Palau Cable 2 (PC2),’” January 14, 2021, [].
[5] Nippon Electric Company, “NEC Commences Construction of Optical Submarine Cable to the Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia,” May 9, 2017, [].
[6] For example, Masanao Shinohara, Narumi Takahashi, Li Jianliang, Kiyoshi Suehiro, and Asahiko Taira, “Crustal Structure of the Northern Izu-Ogasawara Island Arc and the Kyushu-Palau Ridge Explored through Controlled Seismic Source Exploration,” Gekkan Chikyu, extra issue 23 (February 1999), pp. 67‒78; Mitsuhiro Oikawa, Masaru Taga, Ichiro Fukuyama, Atsushi Nishishita, Akinori Saito, Masaharu Kato, Tatsuto Kiba, Masaki Iizuka, Yukihiro Kawamoto, “Kyushu-Palau Ridge (KPr11, KPr12, KPr13, KPr14, KPr31, KPr32) and Mariana Ridge (IBr14),” Japan Coast Guard Marine Intelligence Division, Marine Intelligence Division Technical Report, Vol. 27 (March 2009), pp. 98‒117. *The “Marine Intelligence Division Technical Report” was integrated into the “Marine Intelligence Division Research Report” in 2010.
[7] For example, Japan Coast Guard Marine Intelligence Division, “Past Notable Research,” [].
[8] For example, Xiongwei Niu, Pingchuan Tan, Weiwei Ding, Wei Wang, Yao Wei, Xiaodong Wei, Aiguo Ruan, Jie Zhang, Chunyang Wang, Yong Tang, Jiabiao Li, “Oceanic crustal structure and tectonic origin of the southern Kyushu-Palau Ridge in the Philippine Sea,” Acta Oceanologica Sinica ( IF 1.4 ) , Jan. 9 2022, [].
[9] Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) Members of the Commission August 22, 2023, CLCS, [].
[10] For example, Xiaodong Wei, Weiwei Ding, Aiguo Ruan, Jie Zhang, Xiongwei Niu, Jiabiao Li, Yong Tang, “Crustal structure and variation along the southern part of the Kyushu-Palau Ridge,” Acta Oceanologica Sinica, 2022, 41(1): 50-57.
[11] United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Meeting of States Parties Distr.: General, SPLOS/32/10, March 28, 2022, [].
[12] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “2022年6月16日外交部发言人汪文斌主持例行记者会,” June 16, 2022, [].
[13] For more about this point, please refer to the following. Emi Mifune, “China’s Advancing Maritime Expansion,” Kazankai, East Asia, February 2024, pp. 54‒55.
[14] Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Least Developed Countries,” March 31, 2023, []. The LDCs in Oceania are Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu as of January 2024.
[15] Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Small Island Developing States,” August 18, 2020, []. The UN SIDS list for Oceania includes Kiribati, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, Nauru, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
[16] Alexandre Dayant, Riley Duke, Gilliane De Gorostiza, Roland Rajah, Pacific Aid Map 2023 : Key Findings Report, Lowy Institute, 31 October 2023
[17] Meg Keen, Alan Tidwell, “Geopolitics in the Pacific Islands: Playing for advantage Competition among development partners in the region needs to be harnessed to lift standards and development outcomes,” Lowy Institute, 31 January 2024 [].
[18] Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Island Country Tidbits: Topics about PIF Countries and Areas,” May 1, 2009, [].
[19] Jill Goldenziel, “Kiribati’s Liaison With China Threatens Sushi And U.S. Security,” Forbes, Jul 22, 2022 [].
[20] “基里巴斯与台建交影响中国航天?” VOA, November 8, 2003, [].
[21] Samuel Strickland, “How China’s military plugs into the global space sector,” October 22, 2022, [].
[22] 谢奕秋「中美之间,西太平洋岛国找平衡」参考网、February 10, 2020 []。
[23] Republic of Kiribati, Kiribati 20-year vision 2016‒2036, [][]
[24] 中华人民共和国外交部「2020年1月7日外交部发言人耿爽主持例行记者会」2020年1月7日 []
[25] This is a thinktank set up by the Australian government, but it is also funded by the Australian Department of Defense and the US Department of State, among others.
[26] Steve Raaymakers, “China expands its island-building strategy into the Pacific,” The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, September 14, 2020, The Strategist, []. Dave Makichuk, China eyes strategic airfield deep in the Pacific: The World War II-era airstrip in the archipelago of Kiribati is positioned just 1,800 miles from Hawaii, Asia Times, May 10, 2021, [].
[27] Solomon Ministry of Culture and Tourism, “Basic Information about the Solomon Islands,” [].
[28] The size of Japan’s EEZs (including contiguous zone) presented here comes from Japan Coast Guard, “Conceptual Map of Japanese Territorial Waters, etc.,” [].
[29] Toshi Yoshihara, Chinese Lessons From the Pacific War: Implications for PLA War fighting, The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, January 5, 2023,
[30] New Zealand Government, New Zealand’s National Security Strategy 2023-2028, August 2023, [].
[31] Kirsty Needham, Distribution of Chinese funds by Solomon Islands PM raises questions, Reuters, August 25, 2022 [].
[32] Euan Graham, “Assessing the Solomon Islands’ new security agreement with China,” International Institute for Strategic Studies, May 5, 2022 [].
[33] “2022年3月31日外交部发言人汪文斌主持例行记者会,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, March 31, 2022, [].
[34] “王毅阐述中所安全合作三项原则,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, May 26, 2022, [].
[35] Professor Jon Fraenkel, “Chinese Policing Deals in the Solomon Islands,” Australian Institute of International Affairs, August 1, 2023, [].
[36] Hoi Man Wu, “Former Solomon Islands official ousted from post ‘after turning down Chinese bribes: It seems to be a normal thing for them to come to my office with huge money,” Radio Free Asia, May 2, 2023, [].
[37] “驻所罗门群岛大使李明会见马莱塔省新任省长,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, March 28, 2023, [].
[38] “中华人民共和国和所罗门群岛关于建立新时代相互尊重、共同发展的全面战略伙伴关系的联合声明(全文),” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, July 10, 2023, [].
[39] Shailendra Bahadur Singh, “China’s low-cost deal with Solomon Islands paper could bring large strategic benefit: Beijing pays Solomon Star to ‘promote the truth about China’s generosity,’ intentions in Pacific region, RFA, August 24, 2023, [].
[40] “South Pacific Solomon Islands: Pro-China Posts Coming from China as Social Media Manipulated by Rumors,” Nihon Keizai Shimbun, June 28, 2023.
[41] Peter Dizikes, “Study: On Twitter, false news travels faster than true stories: Research project finds humans, not bots, are primarily responsible for spread of misleading information,” MIT News Office, March 8, 2018 [].
[42] “2022年5月5日外交部发言人赵立坚主持例行记者会,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, May 5, 2022, [].
[43] “2022年5月12日外交部发言人赵立坚主持例行记者会,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, May 12, 2022, [].
[44] Blake Johnson and Joshua Dunne, “Understanding China’s efforts to undermine partnerships in the Pacific,” March 7, 2023, The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, [].