Australian PM Ratchets Up Tensions With Claim to 'Ensure' No Chinese Base in the Solomon Islands

© AP Photo / Rick RycroftAustralia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at a press conference in Sydney, Australia on April 27, 2021
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at a press conference in Sydney, Australia on April 27, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 09.05.2022
On Sunday, Australia’s Prime Minister election debate saw both major parties portray a recently-passed bilateral agreement between the Solomon Islands and China as a potential threat to Canberra. Making it the latest signal that Western panic over Chinese development projects in the Indo-Pacific is here to stay.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison raised eyebrows Sunday when he insisted his administration will “ensure” that no Chinese military base is constructed in the Solomon Islands–an unlikely scenario which Morrison nonetheless insists is a “red line” that its neighbor, the Solomon Islands, must not cross.
He later said it would be “unwise” to explain what, exactly, Australia would do to prevent such a prospect. The remarks came during a debate in which both the ruling Liberal Party PM and his Labor Party challenger repeatedly accused each other of being insufficiently hawkish towards China. Labor leader Anthony Albanese declared that Morrison’s failure to prevent China and the Solomon Islands from signing a bilateral cooperation treaty constituted a “massive foreign policy failure.”
A draft copy of the recently-signed security pact leaked to The Australian reportedly indicates that Beijing and Honiara could look to build wharves, shipyards, submarine cables, and other “mutually beneficial” and “win-win” projects–like deep-sea fishing bases and underwater mining ventures–but gives no reason to believe a Chinese military base is in the works. Both China and the Solomon Islands have long insisted that they have neither the desire nor the intention to construct such a facility and that the terms of the agreement wouldn’t permit it anyway.
On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin was even more blunt, telling reporters that “the so-called Chinese military base in Solomon Islands is completely fabricated with disinformation by a few people with ulterior motives.”
While Morrison has acknowledged that Solomon Islands Prime Minister Monasseh Sogavare “clearly shares” Australia’s “red line,” anti-China rhetoric currently coming from officials in Canberra doesn’t seem to reflect that belief.
In late April, Defense Minister Peter Dutton argued Australia must “prepare for war” and act to “stare down” the Chinese, who he claimed are “on a very deliberate course at the moment.”
The US also issued thinly-veiled threats against the government during a recent visit by high-ranking officials to the Solomon Islands, saying it would ‘take action’ to prevent China from establishing a military presence there.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, left, walks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. - Sputnik International, 1920, 06.05.2022
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Sogavare condemned the threats of “invasion” by foreign powers in an adress before Parliament last week, and lambasted western powers for treating his elected government as “kindergarten students walking around with Colt 45s in [their] hands.”
In addition, Sogavare later denounced comments made by the Australia Home Affairs Minister’s on March 24th describing the Solomon Islands as Australia’s “backyard,” explaining that for Solomon Islanders, the backyard “is where rubbish is collected and burnt” and “where we relieve ourselves.”
On Friday the Solomon Islands' Development Planning and Aid Coordination Minister Jeremiah Manele reportedly met with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne in the Australian city of Brisbane as Manele was transiting through the airport. Payne’s office described a “very productive meeting” in which the Australians “reiterated [their] deep concerns about the security agreement with China,” including what they claim is a “lack of transparency.”
The Chinese perspective was laid out succinctly by Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng in late April:
"On what grounds can Australia draw a 'red line' for Solomon Islands, 2,000km [1,200 miles] away, and China, 10,000km away? What is this, if not an infringement of another country's sovereignty, interference in another country's internal affairs and a breach of international rules?"
Australia's position, he said, consists of little more than "disinformation, defamation, coercion and intimidation", and proves the nation is still "obsessed with colonialist myths, exercising coercive diplomacy, trying hard to control the Pacific islands to maintain a so-called sphere of influence".
"The Pacific,” he said, “is the common home of regional countries, not someone's 'backyard' or 'turf', and should be a stage for international cooperation, not a chessboard for geopolitical games.”
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