A delegation led by a Solomon Islands leader ousted by the Pacific nation’s pro-Beijing government delivered a stark warning last week: that China’s growing influence in their country foreshadows an authoritarian takeover — and, potentially, a future attack on the U.S akin to Pearl Harbour.

“When you look back at World War II, this is the similar thing that has happened with the Japanese Imperial Army. They were hanging around in the Pacific, and all of a sudden, they attacked Pearl Harbor,” said Celsus Talifilu, a political adviser to one of his country’s top opposition leaders.

“This could be the same, too. This could be the same. Once they get their foot in the Solomons and other places in the Pacific, the same, similar thing that happened to Pearl Harbour may happen, maybe not a generation from now, maybe not the next generation, but maybe later,” he added, speaking about the country where U.S forces fought the Japanese in the Battle of Guadalcanal.

He made the comments in New York at a luncheon organised by the National Review Institute for Daniel Suidani, who until February led the government of the Solomons’ most populated island, Malaita, but was ousted this year for his outspoken opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.

Suidani and Talifilu were in town to attend meetings at a UN forum on indigenous peoples, and they plan to return to the Solomon Islands in a few weeks, after a swing through Washington, D.C. They said there are rumors that they will be arrested when they return, and they plan to have a lawyer ready in case anything happens.

In 2019, a pro-Beijing government led by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare came to power in the Solomon Islands, switching the small but strategically located country’s recognition of Taiwan to that of Mainland China and setting in motion a broader alignment with Communist Chinese strategic goals. Since then, the Solomon Islands’ national government has inked a secretive security pact with China and served as a Pacific Island stopover for People’s Liberation Army transport jets.

There were also reports that the Solomon Islands planned to host one of China’s first overseas military bases, and the Pentagon said in its annual report on Chinese military power last year that Beijing “has probably already made overtures” to the country. Following an international outcry, however, Sogavare denied that that was the case.

Yet that has not reassured Washington, which is playing catch-up in the Pacific islands and has only recently pivoted to fervently working to shore up ties with governments in the region, including by establishing an embassy in the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara this year.

When a White House delegation rushed to the Solomons last summer, Sogavare reiterated his claim that there would not be a Chinese military presence. But in an unusual step, the Biden administration’s statement on the trip vowed that America would respond “if steps are taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power-projection capabilities, or a military installation.” There’s already a Chinese police presence in the Solomon Islands, pursuant to the security pact.

Accordingly, there’s a broader political transformation under way, which Suidani and Talifilu characterized as a slide toward authoritarianism enforced by Beijing’s financial heft and heavy-handed policing tactics. Sogavare has already postponed parliamentary elections by seven months, in an unprecedented move, and they believe that the prime minister might further delay them.

“Now that they see the presence of the security pact in the Solomon Islands, people are very fearful,” Suidani said. When he was ousted from the provincial premiership in February, his supporters took to the streets — and were tear-gassed by security forces sent by the central government. He said the vote to remove him from that post was backed by the national government. “I believe it was from the CCP that supported them,” he said, adding that security forces dispersed crowds of his supporters using patrol boats, tear gas, and firearms.

Talifilu said he sees a wholesale subjugation of the region to Chinese rule under way: “This is something bigger than Malaita, or Solomon Islands, or Fiji. This is something big. This communism will come and do the same thing they’ve done to the Uyghurs.”