China’s growing influence in the Pacific has become a hot political issue in Australia ahead of the May 21 election.
Australia will work with its allies to ensure that China does not establish a military base in the Solomon Islands, Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised during a heated pre-election debate.
China’s growing influence in the Pacific has become a hot political issue in Australia ahead of elections on May 21 and following Beijing’s announcement last month that it had signed a security pact with Solomon Islands leaders. .
The agreement between China and the Solomon Islands has not been made public, but a leaked draft alarmed countries in the region, particularly sections that would allow Chinese naval deployments to the Solomon Islands, located less than 2,000 km (1,200 miles). ) from Australia.
The prime minister had warned that establishing a Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands would be crossing a “red line”.
Pressed during Sunday’s debate on what that red line means, Morrison said: “Australia would work with partners to ensure that kind of outcome is prevented.”
Morrison also added that it would be “unwise” to speculate on specific steps Australia might take to prevent a military base from being established in the Solomon Islands.
“The Solomon Islands government itself has made it very clear to us that that is not an outcome they are seeking or supporting either. I think it is not in their national interest to have such a presence,” he said.
Morrison, whose Conservative government trails the opposition in recent opinion polls, has been criticized for failing to prevent China from signing the deal in a region where Australia has traditionally had great influence.
Opposition Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese described the security pact in the televised debate as a “massive foreign policy failure”.
‘Lack of transparency’
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne held talks with her Solomon Islands counterpart in Brisbane on Friday night during which she reiterated Australia’s “deep concern” about the deal and “lack of transparency” about its content.
But he said he was assured by Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele that Australia remained the Pacific state’s “partner of choice”.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare reacted angrily to criticism of the China deal from Australia and the United States.
Sogavare said he deplored the lack of trust from “stakeholders”, insisting that the deal with China was “no cause for concern”.
The leader of the island state told his parliament on Tuesday that there was a “warning of military intervention” if the interests of other nations are undermined in the Solomon Islands.
“In other words, Mr. President, we are threatened with invasion. And that is serious,” the prime minister said.
“We are being treated like kindergarten students walking around with Colt 45s in our hands and therefore we need to be supervised,” he added.
‘We are insulted’
Morrison has denied any threat of invasion of Australia, insisting his government has treated its Pacific allies as equals and urging a “calm and cool” approach to the issue.
The Solomon Islands government severed ties with Taiwan in September 2019 in favor of diplomatic relations with China, a change that unblocked investment from China but stoked inter-island rivalries.
Last November, protests against the Sogavare government erupted into riots in the capital, Honiara, during which much of the city’s Chinatown was set on fire.
Australia led an international peacekeeping mission to help restore calm.