Even if the Solomon Islands sign a planned security agreement with China that Australia rejects, Australian Foreign Minister Maris Payne said on Sunday that Australia would continue to co-operate with the Pacific island nation on security issues.
Canberra worries that the security agreement, which has not been made public, could signal the involvement of Chinese troops within 2,000 kilometers of Australia. According to Payne, there are concerns about the “lack of openness” in the draft security agreement. Despite the Australian government being in caretaker mode due to a national election campaign, an Australian official met with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manseh Sogavar in Honiara this week and asked him not to sign the proposed agreement. Payne said the issue should be addressed “in the context of the Greater Pacific Island Forum” and that the “Pacific Family” was best suited to address regional security concerns. Both the United States and Australia have stepped up their diplomatic “efforts” in the Solomon Islands as part of a larger effort to counter China’s growing influence. According to a draft official document released on social media, the agreement could allow Beijing to deploy troops to protect Chinese workers and significant projects in the Solomon Islands. The security pact has been launched but has not been signed by China and Solomon Islands officials, who have criticized Australia, New Zealand, the United States and some Pacific island neighbors for threatening regional stability.
The deal has alarmed US allies Australia and New Zealand, who are concerned about Chinese influence in an area where they have long held sway. Beijing said this week that security relations between the Pacific island and China have not been directed to a third party, and does not oppose Solomon Islands’ cooperation with other countries. According to Prime Minister Manseh Sogavar, the archipelago will not allow China to build a military base. Payne said the comments were “extremely important assurances” and that Australia would continue to co-operate with the Solomon Islands on security issues, even if an agreement was signed with China.
Beijing has previously set up military installations in rival South China Sea regions – parts of which are claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam – and has conducted multiple infiltrations into the waters around the disputed Diaoyu Islands, which claim mainland. Tokyo is in charge of a series of islands in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku Islands.
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