“Working together with our partners in New Zealand and of course the United States, I share the same red line that the United States has when it comes to these issues,” Morrison said over the weekend. “We won’t be having Chinese military naval bases in our region on our doorstep.”
Solomon Islands, a nation consisting of a population of less than 700,000 spread across hundreds of islands, is situated in strategically important waters in the South Pacific Ocean near Australia and New Zealand.The agreement allows China to send police and military to the nation after it was plagued by deadly riots last year, with unrest and looting that led to the deaths of three civilians.
But the U.S. and its allies fear that China’s ultimate aim is to set up a military base on Solomon Islands, expanding its military reach in the region and threatening the U.S. Navy’s ability to patrol key transit routes.
“This is a shared concern, not just Australia, this is Australia and regional governments, particularly places like Fiji and Papua New Guinea,” Morrison said.
The pact also comes as Morrison faces a tough battle reelection battle this year, with Labor Party opponents arguing the government should have done more to prevent the deal.
“We wouldn’t have cut foreign and development assistance which is important to development and national security. We wouldn’t have cut bilateral aid by 28 per cent on average every year,” Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said of what the Labor Party would have done differently, according to ABC Australia.
Wong argued that Morrison and other key Australian leaders have mocked the concerns of Pacific Island nations in recent years, most notably when it comes to climate change, steering nations such as Solomon Islands closer to China.
“So yes, I do think there’s a different approach,” Wong said. “Do I think it’s easy? No, I do not which is why it shouldn’t be the subject of shrill scare campaigns.”