Canberra, Australia ( Associated Press) – Australia’s opposition on Tuesday pledged to set up a Pacific Defense School to train neighboring forces in response to China’s potential military presence on the Solomon Islands.
The school was one of the measures the centre-left Labor Party promised to increase Australia’s engagement in its region if the opposition won the election on 21 May.
Labor has criticized Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government over a security deal announced last week Between China and the Solomon Islands.
Australia and the United States fear the deal could result in a Chinese naval presence less than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 mi) off the northeastern Australian coast.
There are also concerns that other Pacific island countries have been economically weakened by the pandemic and its impact on tourism could be lured into similar deals by China.
Labor foreign affairs spokesman Penny Wong said Australia needed to restore its place in the Pacific as its partner of choice.
“Let’s be clear, the prospect of a Chinese base less than 2,000 kilometers from Australia’s coastline is dramatically detrimental to Australia’s security interests,” Wong said. “It happened under Mr. Morrison’s watch.”
A policy statement said the Australia-Pacific Defense School will deepen institutional ties between the Australian Defense Force and its regional counterparts while supporting the needs of the region.
Opposition defense spokesman Brendan O’Connor said Australia currently only provides some training for its neighbors’ commissioned military officers and none for lower ranks.
“In recent years, this government…
Morrison lived up to his government’s record during his nine years in office, saying that Australia provided 1.8 billion Australian dollars ($1.3 billion) a year in aid to the Pacific.
Australia was the only country in the world to have a diplomatic mission in each of the countries that make up the Pacific Islands and provide naval patrol boats to each country.
A Labor government would double funding for Australia’s aerial monitoring of its neighbors’ territorial waters to help reduce illegal fishing and finance clean energy infrastructure projects.
“What they are effectively saying is that they will continue to do what we have been doing,” Morrison said, referring to Labor’s Pacific proposals.
Labor also pledged to spend an additional AU$525 million ($379 million) over four years on aid to Pacific countries and East Timor.
State-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation will be funded to bring more Australian television, radio and online media content to a wider Pacific audience. Partnerships will be built with Pacific broadcasters to take Australian voices, values and identities to the region to counter Chinese television and radio.
Changes to Australian visas will make it easier for Pacific Islanders to work and settle in Australia.
Australia is the main security partner of the Solomon Islands and the largest donor of foreign aid. Labor calls Chinese security deal with island nation Australia’s biggest policy failure in the Pacific since World War II.
President Joe Biden’s administration warns the United States will take unspecified action The Chinese settlement against the Solomon Islands should pose a threat to US or allied interests.