China Delivered A Masterstroke While The World Watched Taiwan

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It turns out that most of the West’s experts were looking in the wrong place. While the noisiest commentators and politicians were fixated on Taiwan, China delivered its strategic masterstroke some 6000 kilometres away in the South Pacific instead, reports SMH.

Bloodless and obscure

An attack on Taiwan would be violent and obvious. Signing a security agreement with Solomon Islands was bloodless and obscure. Most of the world has no idea that it’s happened at all.

The family of the Australian man whose vigilance helped frustrate the Japanese Imperial Army’s invasion of the Solomon Islands 70 years ago certainly has noticed. And they’re very upset.

“To say I am disappointed and dismayed at the decision would be an understatement,” says Alexandra Clemens from her home in Melbourne. “I am the daughter of Martin Clemens who valiantly stood his ground on the allies’ behalf alone on Guadalcanal for years before the US finally arrived in 1942.”

Martin Clemens was a civil servant on Guadalcanal, the main island in the Solomons group, as the Japanese juggernaut conquered Asia and prepared to roll into the South Pacific. Born in Scotland, he worked for the British colonial administration as a district officer.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and then seized the “impregnable” British fortress of Singapore, the other Brits fled in fear. The big plantation owners, even Clemens’s boss, the commissioner, left.

Clemens, 25 years old, chose to stay. He worked with local Solomon Islanders to send intelligence to the allies. When the Japanese started to arrive on Guadalcanal, he hid in the mountains and reported their every move using a refrigerator-size heavy wireless that needed four men to lift it, the cutting-edge mobile phone tech of its time.

Improvisation was key

When the batteries eventually ran flat, Clemens used the citric acid from pineapple juice to recharge them. He had no money or supplies, only his wits and wiles and the local people.

So when the Japanese started to build an air base, Clemens made sure the US Marines knew about it. This was the critical development.

The Japanese Imperial Army wanted then what the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is working towards today – control of the oceanic lifeline that connects Australia and New Zealand with the US and Asia.

If the Japanese were able to establish a base on Guadalcanal, they could control US access from Australia, where the US Far East commander General Douglas MacArthur had his base, to the rest of the Pacific and points north. US and other allied forces needed to be able to pass through the choke point to wage war on Japanese occupation forces through the region. Their resupply vessels needed free access, too.

The US Marines 1st Division was dispatched. The first Allied land assault on the Japanese in World War II was afoot. Clemens worked with his volunteer spy army of about 400 Solomon Island natives to feed detailed intelligence to the marines to guide their landing. He stayed on and helped the allies with essential local knowledge.

Clemens was the embodiment of the vigilance that Australia and its allies seem to have neglected today. He had another vital lesson to offer contemporary times – how to win over the people of the Solomons. He could not have sustained his reconnaissance without them.

The Japanese knew he was watching them and regularly swept the island searching for him. One word from a local and he’d have been finished. As he wrote in his book Alone on Guadalcanal, he would not have survived without “the sorely tried but unswerving loyalty of the Solomon Islanders”. They “daily carried out miracles of deception”.

How did he earn their loyalty, especially when many of them were being paid by the Japanese to build their air base?

The islanders were anxious about the future and “begged me to tell them what was to happen. All that I could say was that, someday, someone would rescue us from our sorry plight, and that, until that happy day, I intended to stay with them”.

The commander of the 1st Marines in the Guadalcanal campaign, General Alexander Vandegrift, added that Clemens won the trust of the Solomon Island locals by the “force of his character, by example and the personification of the virtues of our Western philosophy”.

Clemens’s daughter Alexandra adds that her father’s cause was much strengthened when Japanese troops stole the islanders’ pigs. He kept his word and stayed on Guadalcanal through the months of grinding fighting and until the Japanese surrender in 1945.

Among the consequences of Clemens’ work is the survival of a junior US naval officer who went on to become an American president. Clemens’ scouts told him of a US patrol boat that had been sunk, its survivors marooned on a remote island. They’d written a message on a coconut shell for the scouts to give to the US Navy, which they hoped would find them.

Clemens told the scouts to organise a rescue, which is how Lieutenant John F. Kennedy and his crew came to be delivered from their week-long ordeal.

And now Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, has been nominated by Joe Biden to be the next US ambassador to Canberra. Without Clemens and his scouts, so much modern history might have been different.

He was the first person to be admitted as an honorary non-American member of the Marine Corps. He was awarded honours by the US, Britain and Australia, the country he adopted and died in. The Obama administration sent a colonel and staff sergeant to his funeral in 2009.

But now a hostile force is, once again, on the brink of establishing control of that critical lifeline. China has established the political foundation for military operations through the Solomon Islands.

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Source: SMH

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