'Deeply Concerned' About Security Deal With China, Australian FM Tells Solomon Islands Counterpart
The meeting between the two foreign ministers came after Australian and Chinese officials held virtual consultations on 6 May, as per an Australian release. Canberra says that it raised "serious concerns" about the Sino-Solomon Islands' security pact and the "lack of transparency" around it during the online meeting.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met her Solomon Islands' counterpart Jeremiah Manele in Brisbane on Friday evening, in what was the first high-level contact between the two Pacific Ocean neighbours since the signing of the Sino-Solomon Security pact last month.
"Australia has been consistent and clear in stating our respect for Solomon Islands' sovereign decision-making. However, we have reiterated our deep concerns about the security agreement with China, including the lack of transparency," Payne said in a statement.
"I again reinforced this in my meeting tonight," the statement by the Australian FM added.
Payne also remarked that both sides agreed that Canberra still remains Honiara's "security partner of choice", in spite of warming of ties between the Solomon Islands and Beijing since the former switched its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019.
The meeting between the two foreign ministers came against the backdrop of escalating concerns in Australia that the security framework agreement between Beijing and Honiara could lead to the setting-up of a Chinese "military base" in the Pacific nation.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned on several occasions that such a base would constitute a "red line" for both Canberra and Washington.
The pact has been described as a "policy failure" by Australia's federal opposition Labor Party and has taken centre stage in the ongoing federal election campaign ahead of voting on 21 May.
The surfacing of the new security deal also prompted a visit from a high-level US delegation comprising Kurt Campbell, White House's National Security Council coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs, and Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Kritenbrink has said that the US would "very naturally respond" to the establishing of a "de facto permanent military presence, power projection capabilities, or a military installation" by China in the Solomon Islands.
The Solomon Islands as well as China have both denied the suggestion that the new security base would eventually lead to a Chinese base in the Pacific nation.
In a fiery speech in the country's Parliament this week, Solomon Islands' Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said that his country was being "threatened with an invasion".
Sogavare also accused Australia and the US of "undermining" his government since it signed the security deal with Beijing.
"We are being treated as kindergarten students walking around with Colt 45s in our hands, and we need to be supervised," he remarked.
Beijing has also slammed both Australia and the US for having "double-standards" over the Solomon Islands-China pact.
"The US showed no openness and transparency when it conducted nuclear tests and dumped nuclear wastes in the South Pacific region and when AUKUS (the trilateral security arrangement between Australia, US and the UK) opened the Pandora's Box of nuclear proliferation in the Asia-Pacific region," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a routine press briefing last month.
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