Australian PM says there is ‘great concern across Pacific family’ over China deal


Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia respects the sovereignty of individual Pacific Island states but will work with partners “to ensure there is a keen understanding of the risks and threats” the draft security deal between the Solomon Islands and China poses.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there is “great concern” across the Pacific family in the wake of China’s potential new military pact with the Solomon Islands.

The draft security cooperation deal between Beijing and Honiara – which enables greater Chinese involvement in the Pacific Islands region – was leaked online on Thursday night.

The agreement would include increased Chinese aid sent to the Solomon Islands and could see China establish a naval base on the island about 2,000 kilometres north-east of Australia.

Morrison was again asked about the leaked security deal during a press conference about an additional $52.3 million(US$39.3 million) in funding for Lifeline Australia over four years.

“I think there is great concern across the Pacific family, because we are in constant contact with our Pacific family,” Morrison said..

“I think what these events highlight is the reason why our government increased our overseas development assistance.”

The Prime Minister said Australia respects the sovereignty of individual island states in the region but remains on alert.

“They make their own decisions in their own places and we respect their democracies,” he said.

“At the same time though we will work with our partner states in the Pacific to ensure there is a keen understanding of the risks and threats we believe this poses.

“And we’ve made those positions very clear.”

Morrison said communication with Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on Friday indicated that he “greatly appreciates the incredible support” Australia has provided to the nation.

“We are the Solomon Islands’ single largest development partner,” Morrison said.

“It was when the Solomon Islands recently went into a time of crisis, the first place the Solomon Islands called was Australia and we sent in our defence forces and our police and they’re still there.

“We will be there on the ground and will continue to be there on the ground to support peace, security, stability in the Solomon Islands.”

The Prime Minister added that Australia’s support would continue beyond the Solomon Islands and to other Pacific nations.

“It is Australia that the Pacific have turned to and no government has committed more time, effort, investment and respect to the Pacific nations than my government has,” he said.

Under the leaked agreement, the Solomon Islands would be able access “armed police, military personnel” and other law enforcement from China to maintain “social order” on request.

However, China would be able to move military personnel and navy vessels onto the island “according to its own needs”.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton admitted the possibility of China establishing a naval base about 2,000 kilometres from the Australian coast had the government “very concerned”.

“We don’t believe it’s in the best interest of the Indo-Pacific of peace and stability that we want to see prevail over the course of the coming years and the coming decades to have a Chinese military presence of this nature within our region,” he told Sky News Australia.

“This does cause significant concern particularly when you see the very close relationship between Russia and China an extension of that power block into the Indo-Pacific is very concerning,” he said.