Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Australian, Solomon Islands ministers discuss China deal

Canberra, Australia ( Associated Press) — Australia’s foreign minister has met his Solomon Islands counterpart for the first time since the South Pacific nation signed a security deal with China.Which has raised concerns about Beijing’s encroachment on Australia’s doorstep.

Foreign Minister Maris Payne said on Saturday she met with Solomon Islands Development Planning and Aid Coordination Minister Jeremiah Manele in Australia’s east coast city of Brisbane as he passed through the airport on Friday night.

Payne’s office said in a statement, “Australia has been consistent and clear in expressing its respect for the sovereign decision-making of the Solomon Islands, although we have reiterated our deepest concerns about the security agreement with China, which requires transparency.” Including shortfalls.”

Payne’s office said both agreed that Australia would continue to be a security partner of the Solomon Islands. of choice and that the Solomon Islands will not host a foreign military base less than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 mi) off the north-east coast of Australia.

Manele could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

The United States has said it will take unspecified action against the Solomon Islands if the deal with China poses a threat to US or allied interests. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogaware told parliament this week that opponents of the security deal with China had threatened to “invade” his country.

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the two ministers had a “very fruitful conversation”. Tehan said that Australia said that the Chinese base in the Solomon Islands was not in the interest of the region.

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“What we want to do is make sure we’re making a very strong case for why it’s incredibly important that we don’t see the militarization of Pacific islands,” Tehan said.

Tehan said Payne and Manele also discussed how the conservative government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison needed to keep working on bilateral relations.

Morrison’s coalition is seeking a rare fourth three-year term in the May 25 elections.

Morrison welcomed the meeting as a reinforcement of Australia’s leadership role in the region.

“This reassures once again that the Solomon Islands are not considering or will not support the establishment of a naval presence,” Morrison told reporters while campaigning in the west coast city of Perth.

China-Solomon Islands Security Agreement The election announced last month has become a major focus of the campaign.

After details of a draft agreement were released, Australia’s Minister of International Development and the Pacific, Jade Cesselja, flew to Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, on 12 April to unsuccessfully ask the government to abandon it.

The centre-left opposition Labor Party said at the time that Payne, a minister more senior than Cecelja, should have been sent instead.

Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese welcomed Payne’s meeting with Manele, saying “it is about time.”

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Albanese has also criticized Morrison for not calling him his Solomon Islands counterpart since the agreement was signed. Morrison has said he was following the advice of intelligence officials.

The Labor Party has denounced the agreement as Australia’s worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific since World War II. Albanese has promised closer engagement between Australia and its South Pacific island neighbors if the Labor government wins.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has suggested that Beijing time the announcement of the agreement during the election campaign to undermine its conservative Liberal Party’s chances of re-election.

Ceselja arrived in Honiara the same day US Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke with Manele about Washington’s plan to reopen an embassy in Honiara.

Not referring to the United States or Australia by name, Sogaware told parliament that his country was “humiliated” by a “lack of confidence by the parties concerned”.

Sogaware has said there will be no Chinese base in his country and China has denied calls for a military foothold in the islands.

A draft of the treaty, which was leaked online, said Chinese warships could stop in the Solomon Islands to replenish logistics and that China would send police and armed forces there “to help maintain social order”. could. The Solomon Islands and China have not released a final version of the agreement.

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