Two of Australia’s top spy chiefs were quietly deployed to the Solomon Islands over fears of the nation’s security deal with China.
Australian officials have still not seen the text of a security pact between China and the Solomon Islands despite two spy chiefs being deployed to the Pacific Island nation to express the government’s deep concerns.
Office of National Intelligence boss Andrew Shearer and Australian Secret Intelligence Service chief Paul Symon met with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on Wednesday.
In a statement from Mr Sogavare‘s office posted late on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said the “positive” meeting addressed Australia’s “core security concerns”.
“The meeting provided a platform for the two countries to better understand each other in particular on Solomon Islands’ decision to its broadened security partnership with China and other countries,” the statement said.
“Solomon Islands reassured Australia that its security concerns are domestically focused and complements current bilateral security agreement with Australia and the regional security architecture.”
Sogavare said Australia remained his country’s “partner of choice” but firmly stated his nation was not prepared to dump the Beijing deal.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) secretary Kathryn Campbell confirmed that Australia’s high commissioner to the Solomon Islands was also in attendance.
“I think the media has outlined what was the substance of that meeting. This is not uncommon for these officeholders to engage in the region,” she told a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday.
DFAT’s head of the Office of the Pacific, Ewen McDonald, also travelled to the Pacific nation to “work with the Solomon Islands government” about the deal.
Australia and other Pacific Island nations fear the security agreement could give Beijing a foothold in the Solomon Islands for a military presence in the future.
But despite the meeting, Campbell told a senate estimates hearing on Thursday that officials still had not seen a copy of the deal.
“My last briefing was that we have not seen the text of the agreement,” she said.
“It‘s important that we do see the text and we have called for that.”
The deal, which was leaked online last month, has since been initialled by top officials from China and the Solomon Islands but not formalised.