CANBERA, Australia ( Associated Press) – A Chinese ambassador says China’s engagement with South Pacific island nations poses no threat to Australia, responding to fears that Beijing will establish a military foothold in the Solomon Islands.
China’s envoy to Australia, Xiao Qian, attempted to reassure his host country in a newspaper published on Thursday as reports emerged of a planned visit by a high-level Chinese delegation to Solomon following the completion of a bilateral security deal .
“Cooperation between China and the South Pacific island states is conducive to the well-being of the peoples of both sides and to regional prosperity and stability, and will not in any way threaten Australia’s security,” Xiao wrote in The Australian Financial Review.
“The rise of China should not be seen as a threat to Australia,” Xiao wrote. He made no specific mention of the Solomon Islands or the security agreement.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose conservative government is seeking a fourth three-year term in elections next week, said he disagreed with the ambassador that “Chinese government interference in the Pacific has no consequences.”
“I think it has huge consequences,” Morrison told reporters.
“I support Australian national interests, not the national interests of the Chinese government, whether in Australia or in the Pacific, and so I have always taken a very strong stand on this,” Morrison said.
Australia and its allies, including the United States, fear that the Sino-Solomon agreement will result in the establishment of a Chinese naval base less than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 mi) off the northeastern Australian coast.
Solomon’s Prime Minister Manasseh Sogaware has said there will be no Chinese military base in his country and China has denied calls for a military foothold in the islands.
Asked whether China’s rise should be seen as a threat to Australia, opposition leader Anthony Albanese told reporters: “China has changed its stance. They are more aggressive in the region.”
“We need to compete without devastation, in the words of the (President Joe) Biden administration,” Albanese said.
According to media reports, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is planning a visit to Solomon.
In Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters he had no information to release about Wang’s travel plans.
Sogaware’s office did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment on reports of Wang’s impending visit.
Peter Caniloria, the opposition MP for Solomons and chairman of the Parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee, said the visit could happen at the end of next week, The Australian Financial Review reported.
Caniloria did not immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press on Thursday.
Some senior Australian government lawmakers have suggested that Beijing announced the Solomon Pact during an election campaign to undermine the ruling coalition’s chances of retaining power in the May 21 election.
Defense Secretary Peter Dutton said on Wednesday, “It’s clearly provocative, especially during an election campaign, that China has made this decision and I think we should be aware of what’s happening in our region.” You need to open your eyes again.”
Opposition to the centre-left Labor Party has called the Sino-Solomon Agreement Australia’s worst foreign policy blunder in the Pacific since World War II.
Government lawmakers argue that Beijing wants a change in government because Labor lawmakers will be less likely to stand up to Chinese coercion.