‘Very concerned’: Morrison responds to new details of China’s ties with Solomon Islands

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has responded to a leaked draft MoU between China and the Solomon Islands outlining how they will further deepen ties including cooperation on building wharves and ship yards.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia is “very aware” of Beijing’s ambitions in the Pacific after a draft agreement between China and the Solomon Islands on further strengthening ties was leaked.

The Australian reported on Monday it had obtained a copy of the draft “memorandum of understanding on deepening blue economy cooperation” between the two nations, which was dated 2022 but not yet signed.

The draft states China and the Solomon Islands “will uphold mutually-beneficial and win-win development partnership”, before going on to say the two nations “will encourage businesses to conduct investment cooperation in the blue economy”.

Those investments are set to include “port wharves, submarine optimal cable construction, shipbuilding and ship repair and ocean transportation”, as well as “exploration and development of offshore oil, gas and mineral resources”.

China and the Solomon Islands will also “encourage and support businesses to jointly establish marine economic cooperation parks and deep-sea fishing bases”.

Morrison was asked at a press conference on Monday in Nowra on the New South Wales south coast whether Australia was aware Beijing and Honiara were negotiating on building wharves and other maritime infrastructure.

The Prime Minister was also pressed on how Australia could be sure “it won’t ultimately be used by the Chinese military” and if there was “a further erosion of the trust between our government and the Solomons if they’re negotiating further deals with Beijing that are only being known about by being leaked”.

A draft of the security pact between China and the Solomon Islands was also leaked before it was formally signed.

“We’re 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,” Morrison said.

“I mean they’re doing this all around the world. I don’t think there’s any great secret about that.

“I can tell you we are very aware of what is happening within our region and we’re very aware of the pressures there are that the Chinese government is seeking to put on countries right across our region.”

Morrison reiterated he was “concerned” about the “interference and intrusion” of the Chinese and the impact of Beijing’s actions would have on the “peace, stability and security” of the region.

“There are 19 Pacific Island countries within the Pacific Islands Forum and so that is a broad family that we must work with and do all the time to ensure we’re seeking to protect not just Australia’s national interest but… I don’t believe it’s in the Solomon Islands’ national interest,” he said.

“Now that is ultimately a matter for the people of the Solomon Islands. But I am very concerned, as many other Pacific leaders are, about the interference and intrusion of the Chinese government into these types of arrangements.

“And what that can mean for the peace, stability and security of the southwest Pacific and that is why the Pacific step-up’s in place.”

The Prime Minister spruiked Australia’s investments in the Pacific, saying the government had increased its overseas development assistance to $1.85 billion (US$1.25 billion) a year.

“That is why we’ve been investing heavily in the infrastructure, particularly communications and energy infrastructure, across the Pacific Islands regions and that is why we’ve been supporting them in every health crisis they’ve had,” Morrison said.

“Whether it was COVID, or whether it was measles, up in Samoa or the humanitarian crisis where we moved so quickly to be over in Tonga to support the people of Tonga.

“The first call when any of these things happen in our region, from any of our Pacific family, is to Australia and that remains the case. Indeed, Australian Federal Police remain on the ground in Honiara right now securing the peace and stability of that city”

Australia previously declared it was “deeply disappointed” the Solomon Islands had signed the security pact with China, which sparked fears Beijing would establish a military presence in the region.

That deal will see Beijing cooperate with Honiara on maintaining social order, protecting people’s safety, aid, combating natural disasters and helping safeguard national security.

Labor said Morrison’s failure to intervene in the security deal between China and the Solomon Islands was the “biggest foreign policy failure since the Second World War”.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare defended the security pact, saying the Pacific nation has been threatened with “invasion”.

In a recent address to the Solomon Islands’ parliament, Sogavare did not name Australia or the United States but condemned those who campaigned against the security pact.

“We deplore the continual demonstration of lack of trust by the concerned parties, and tacit warning of military intervention in Solomon Islands if their national interest is undermined in Solomon Islands,” Sogavare said

“In other words, we are threatened with invasion.

“What is more insulting, in this attitude, and therefore totally unacceptable, is we are being treated as kindergarten students walking around with Colt .45s in our hands, and therefore we need to be supervised. We are insulted.”

China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin late last month claimed speculation the country will establish a Solomon Islands military base was pure disinformation.

SOURCE: SKY NEWS/PACNEWS