Australia Sees Solomon Islands-China Security Deal as Step to 'Restrict Movement in Pacific'
The Solomon Islands has planned an agreement with Beijing covering Chinese deployments of "police, armed police, military personnel, and other law enforcement and armed forces" to the Pacific nation. Australia and New Zealand have expressed grave concerns and said this agreement would lead to the militarisation of the region.
Australia has denied that it was caught by surprise by the leaked Solomon Islands-China naval base agreement last week.
"The reports we have seen is not a surprise to us and are a reminder of constant pressures and threats that present in our region to our own national security", Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, said on Monday.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce observed that Beijing's naval presence in the Solomon Islands is meant to "intimidate" Australia or "restrict our capacity of movement".
"We are engaged [with Pacific Island nations] because we are not blind to the tactics of other people who are going through the process of trying to restrict our capacity of movement and intimidate us", Joyce said.
Australia and New Zealand have questioned the purpose of a military base â€” which would be less than 2000 km from the Australian coast and noted that it acts as a potential militarisation of the region.
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the agreement being negotiated by the Solomon Islands and China is "gravely concerning" to her country.
Meanwhile, Australia has begun lobbying with Pacific Island nations against the draft agreement.
Australian PM Morrison spoke to his Papua New Guinea and Fijian counterparts James Marape and Frank Bainimarama and has planned several more interactions at various levels in the region.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, is scheduled to make a public statement in parliament on the security treaty with China on Tuesday morning.
The reports of China's first military base in the Pacific came when Australia expanded its military budget and concluded a trilateral security arrangement named AUKUS with the US and UK.
Under AUKUS, Australia will receive technologies from the US and UK to build nuclear submarines besides several missiles and military hardware. AUKUS was vehemently opposed by Beijing, who accused Washington of militarising the Asia-Pacific region.
In February, the US announced the opening of an embassy in the Solomon Islands after it reckoned that China wanted to create military relationships in the Pacific islands.
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