Australian, Solomon Islands ministers discuss China pact
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Saturday she met the Solomon Islands' Development Planning and Aid Coordination Minister Jeremiah Manele in the Australian east coast city of Brisbane as he transited through the airport on Friday night.
“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's office said in a statement.
Payne's office said the pair agreed that Australia remained the Solomon Islands' security partner of choice and that the Solomon Islands would not host a foreign military base less than 2,000 kilometres off Australia's northeast coast.
Manele could not be contacted for comment on Saturday.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan told Australian Broadcasting Corp. the two ministers had a “very productive conversation.” Australia said a Chinese base in the Solomon Islands was not in the interests of the region, Tehan said.
Morrison's coalition is seeking a rare fourth three-year term in elections on May 25.
The China-Solomon Islands security pact announced last month has become a major focus of the election campaign.
After details of a draft pact were released, Australia's minister for international development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja, flew to the Solomon Islands' capital Honiara on April 12 to unsuccessfully ask the government to abandon it.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese welcomed Payne's meeting with Manele.
“It's about time,” Albanese said.
Albanese has also criticised Morrison for not phoning his Solomon Islands counterpart Manasseh Sogavare since the pact was signed. Morrison has said he was following the advice of intelligence officials.
A US delegation to Honiara led by Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council Indo-Pacific coordinator, and Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, warned after the pact was signed that the United States will take unspecified action against the Solomon Islands should the agreement with China pose a threat to US or allied interests.
While not mentioning the United States or Australia by name, Sogavare said his country was “insulted” by the “lack of trust by the concerned parties.” Sogavare has maintained that there would be no Chinese base in his country and China has denied seeking a military foothold in the islands.
A draft of the pact, which was leaked online, said Chinese warships could stop in the Solomon Islands for logistical replenishment and China could send police and armed forces there “to assist in maintaining social order.” The Solomon Islands and China have not released the final version of the agreement.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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- Marise Payne
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