The Chinese and Russian militaries have been banned from attending a major military trade show in Sydney, as concerns heighten about the recently signed security agreement between China and Solomon Islands.
Royal Australian Navy chief, Vice Admiral Mike Noonan, decided not to invite Chinese officials to the Indo-Pacific 2022 International Maritime Exposition because of the country’s trade strikes against Australia and the deterioration of relations between the two nations.
Russian officials are also not attending the conference, which runs between Tuesday and Thursday this week, after an invitation to Moscow was rescinded shortly after its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.
Navy chiefs from 40 countries are gathering at Darling Harbour for the conference, the first since the global pandemic, where emerging technologies in undersea warfare will be top of the agenda.
In the past, officers from the People’s Liberation Army Navy have attended the conference, which is usually held biennially.
However, Noonan and other military officers made the assessment that it was ill-advised to invite China this year while Beijing is still subjecting Australia to economic coercion. China over the past two years has imposed more than $20 billion (US$13.8 billion) of tariffs and other economic sanctions against Australia over its push for an independent inquiry into COVID-19 and key national security decisions, such as Canberra’s foreign interference laws.
Advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also dictates that any contact between Australian and Chinese officials should be at an equivalent level.
The controversial security deal between China and Solomon Islands will be a major talking point at the conference over the coming days.
The deal between Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s government and Beijing could see Chinese naval vessels and troops based less than 2000 kilometres off the Australian east coast and cut off vital supply lines to the U.S and Asia, in the event of a conflict.
Royal Solomon Islands Police Inspector Nevol Sokois, who is responsible for the country’s naval forces, was expected to participate in the conference virtually.
Australian officials were expected to express their disappointment to Sokois about the signing of the security agreement.
Australia fears the deal could pave the way for a permanent Chinese military presence in the Solomons and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has criticised the Chinese government for insisting the text of the agreement be kept secret.
Another leaked document – a draft maritime cooperation agreement between Beijing and Honiara – surfaced on Monday. The document showed China is planning to build “deep-sea fishing bases” as well as shipyards and submarine cables in Solomon Islands.
Morrison, who has been facing criticism from Labor during the election campaign for not doing more to stop the security deal from being signed, said the government was “very aware of what the Chinese government’s ambitions are in the Pacific”.
“Whether it be in relation to facilities such as that or naval bases or other presence of their military in the Pacific,” he said.
“They’re doing this all around the world. I don’t think there’s any great secret about that.
“We are very aware of what’s happening in our region and of the pressures there are that the Chinese government is seeking to put on countries across our region.” he said.