Labor accuses Liberals of letting 'the Pacific go' as a result of Solomon Islands-China security deal

Harsh words were once again exchanged between Labor and Liberal party frontbenchers over the Solomon Islands-China security pact.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare (left), and China's ambassador in Honiara Li Ming (right), cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony of a Chinese-funded national stadium

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare (left) and Beijing's ambassador in Honiara Li Ming at the opening ceremony of a Chinese-funded national stadium. Source: AFP / MAVIS PODOKOLO/AFP via Getty Images

Labor's deputy leader Richard Marles has responded to Scott Morrison's accusations that he is "soft" on China by blaming the Liberals for the Solomon Islands' security pact with Beijing.

Mr Marles said the Liberal Party has "let the Pacific go" and that Australia is "less safe" as a result of the new security deal.

"Let's be really clear, under their watch, they have let the Pacific go," Mr Marles said.

"Under their watch, they have made it so that Australia is not the partner of choice for the Solomon Islands.

"And by virtue of that, our security is much worse than it would otherwise have been.
"This is a watershed moment in terms of Australia's national security, in terms of our place in the region and it is a watershed moment that is very negative.

"It definitely raises the increased prospect of Chinese military presence in the Pacific and that makes Australia less safe," Mr Marles told reporters at a press conference in Slacks Creek, Queensland.

Mr Morrison has attacked Mr Marles over a speech he made in China in 2019, which was shared with the government before it was delivered.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg also shifted the heat off the Liberal party by criticising Mr Marles for sharing his speech with the Chinese government, saying it meant he was "welcoming" China's presence in the Pacific region and that the Liberals "won't be taking lectures from Labor party on national security".

Mr Marles defended the speech saying it was critical of the Chinese government.

Australian intelligence agency supported leak of Solomons-China security pact

Australian authorities have confirmed that the Australian government was aware of the security deal between China and the Solomon Islands before it was released, and encouraged a leak of its draft online when diplomatic efforts failed to stop its fruition.

The draft agreement revealed plans that allowed the Chinese military to protect infrastructure less than 2,000 kilometres from Australia's borders.

Following advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Morrison government chose not to send Foreign Minister Marise Payne there, to avoid antagonising the Solomons leader, and it took almost a month for Pacific Minister Zed Seselja to arrive in Honiara.
This delay caused Labor campaign spokesperson Jason Clare to call the deal an "epic fail" by the Morrison government, claiming they were "too slow" to act on the Solomons.

Labor's frontbenchers like Mr Clare have stepped up after Opposition leader Anthony Albanese contracted COVID-19 on Thursday.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham defended the prime minister over the signing of the security pact, and not having spoken to the Solomons leader since.

"Scott Morrison has had many conversations with Prime Minister Sogavare.

"And we as a country continue to engage appropriately with the Solomon Islands and it’s through those areas of engagement that we’ve secured important commitments from the Solomon Islands to not have any foreign military bases established in the Solomon Islands."

US to speed up embassy plans in Solomons

The United States has said it will speed up plans to reopen an embassy in the Solomons capital of Honiara, amid strategic concerns about China's growing presence in the region.

The plans come due to their concerns the Solomons security pact with China is not solely for domestic purposes.

“Solomon Islands representatives indicated that the agreement had solely domestic applications, but the US delegation noted there are potential regional security implications of the accord, including for the United States and its allies and partners,” the White House said in a statement on Thursday.

The White House said they would respond to any security threats in the region.

“The US delegation outlined clear areas of concern with respect to the purpose, scope and transparency of the agreement.

"If steps are taken to establish a de-facto permanent military presence, power-projection capabilities, or a military installation, the delegation noted that the United States would then have significant concerns and respond accordingly,” the statement said.

4 min read
Published 23 April 2022 at 4:59pm
By Tom Canetti
Source: SBS News