Australian Prime Minister ‘to ensure’ there is no Chinese base in the Solomon Islands | Political news
China’s growing influence in the Pacific has become a hot political topic in Australia ahead of the May 21 election.
Australia will work with its allies to ensure China does not set up 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 topic in Australia ahead of the May 21 election and after Beijing announced last month that it had signed a security pact with the leaders of the Solomon Islands.
The China-Solomon deal has not been made public, but a leaked draft has alarmed countries in the region, particularly sections that would allow Chinese naval deployments to the Solomons, located within 2,000 km (1,200 miles) from Australia.
The Prime Minister had warned that the establishment of a Chinese military base in the Solomons would cross a “red line”.
Pressed during Sunday’s debate over the meaning of that red line, Morrison said: “Australia would work with partners to ensure this type of outcome would be avoided.”
Morrison also added that it would be “reckless” to speculate on specific steps Australia might take to prevent the establishment of a military base on the Solomons.
“The Solomon Islands government itself has made it very clear to us that this is also not an outcome they seek or support. I believe it is not in their national interest to have such a presence,” he said.
Morrison, whose Conservative government is trailing the Opposition in the latest opinion polls, has come under fire for failing to stop China from signing the deal in a region where Australia has traditionally held sway.
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 counterpart in Brisbane on Friday evening during which she reiterated Australia’s “deep concern” about the deal and the “lack of transparency” on its content.
But she said Solomon Islands foreign minister Jeremiah Manele reassured her 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 lamented the lack of trust from “affected parties”, insisting the deal with China was “not of concern”.
The leader of the island state told his parliament on Tuesday that there had been “a warning of military intervention” if the interests of other nations were compromised in the Solomon Islands.
“In other words, Mr. President, we are threatened with invasion. And this is serious,” the prime minister said.
“We are treated like kindergarteners walking around with Colt 45s in our hands, so we have to be watched,” he added.
“We are insulted”
Morrison has denied any threat of invasion from Australia, insisting his government has treated its Pacific allies as equals while calling for a “calm and collected” approach to the issue.
The Solomon Islands government severed ties with Taiwan in September 2019 in favor of diplomatic relations with China, a move that has unlocked investment from China but fueled inter-island rivalries.
Last November, protests against the Sogavare regime escalated into riots in the capital Honiara, in which much of the city’s Chinatown was set on fire.
Australia led an international peacekeeping mission to help restore calm.