Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu has warned Australia must pay more attention to China’s increasing presence in the Indo-Pacific, describing Beijing’s new security pact with Solomon Islands as a threat to peace and stability in the region.
In an exclusive interview with SBS News, Wu said his self-governed island was on the frontline of China’s expanding “authoritarianism”, but this threat was now edging closer to Australia.
“It is right at your doorstep and I’m sure any military presence by China in the Solomons Islands is going to be your great concern,” he said.
“The like-minded countries like the United States and Australia and Japan need to pay more attention to the Chinese military activities in the Pacific.”
The security pact signed between Solomon Islands and China has ignited a flashpoint over foreign policy and national security during Australia’s election campaign, prompting unease over the deal’s implications in Australia and the United States.
There is concern it marks the first step toward a Chinese military base in Solomon Islands, despite an assurance from the country’s Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, and China, ruling this prospect out.
For their part, Beijing said the security pact is aimed at promoting “social stability and long term peace in Solomon Islands”.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said: “China-Solomon Islands security cooperation is open, transparent and not targeted at any third party. It does not contradict Solomon Islands’ cooperation with other partners or existing regional mechanisms.
“It serves the common interests of Solomon Islands and the South Pacific region.”
Wu said he wanted Taiwan to be part of greater co-operation in the Indo-Pacific and have partners like Australia “work closer” to prevent China from increasing its presence in the region.
“When we see authoritarianism continue to expand into the Pacific … this is injecting a factor of instability into the area.
“And we are also seeing the trend of authoritarianism, trying to inject this ideology and its mechanism of control into the Pacific countries, most specifically, those countries that sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
“Look at the Solomon Islands – it’s right at the doorstep of Australia. And Australia is a very good friend of ours and when Australia cares, we care,” he said.
“If China continues to expand its influence into the Pacific or eventually coming up with a military presence, it is going to be a major factor for the like-minded countries to be concerned about.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has defended its handling of relations with Solomon Islands and the Pacific, despite criticism from Labor that the security pact amounts to a “foreign policy failure” on the Coalition’s watch.
Opposition foreign affairs spokesperson Penny Wong said in April it was the “worst Australian foreign policy blunder in the Pacific since the end of World War Two”.
Wu said he didn’t believe the situation should be described as a “failure” because the “Chinese military hasn’t shown up in the Solomon Islands yet”.
“But the military presence, if this becomes a reality … I’m sure that is going to be a very serious security concern of the Australian government.”
Lijian said: “The rumour that China will build a military base in Solomon Islands is pure disinformation fabricated by a few individuals with ulterior motives.”
Opinion polls suggest concern about the deal among the Australian public, with 72 per cent of 1,408 voters polled ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about the agreement according to a by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Taiwan had a strong diplomatic relationship with the Solomon Islands for almost four decades, during which time the Pacific nation received financial support from the country.
But the Sogavare government severed ties with Taiwan in September 2019 in favour of diplomatic relations with China, a switch that unlocked investment but also stoked internal opposition and unrest within the Pacific nation.
The central government’s decision to switch ties to Beijing has been a flashpoint for the provincial rift between Guadalcanal, home to the capital Honiara, and the second biggest island, Malaita, with Malaita Premier Daniel Suidani highly outspoken against the move.
Many of the anti-government protesters in the capital Honiara last November came from Malaita, the demonstrations later descending into violence with AFP officers and ADF soldiers deployed to help quell the unrest.