China’s new security accord with Solomon Islands, a Pacific archipelago northeast of Australia, has caused alarm in Canberra.
The pact would allow Beijing to send armed forces to the islands to protect Chinese investments and maintain social order. Authorities in Solomon Islands have insisted that China would not be permitted to establish a permanent military base on their territory.
However, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been accused of diplomatic incompetence over his government’s failure to stop the agreement being signed.
Australia is Solomon Islands main aid donor and traditional security partner.
As the country prepares to vote next month, the opposition Labor Party has outlined its plan to restore Australia’s position in the region.
There would be more money for aid, military training with island nations in the Pacific and surveillance flights.
Labor’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Penny Wong, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the initiative would boost Australia’s standing with its neighbors.
“We will use the resources of government and apply ourselves to the job of government, which is to restore Australia’s place as the partner of choice in the Pacific, and we do that because we understand in the face of Chinese increased assertiveness and aggression one of the key ways in which you ensure Australia’s security is to secure our region and Mr. Morrison has dropped the ball on that task.”
Morrison dismissed Labor's plan for the Pacific as “farcical” and said it showed the opposition did not understand the challenges Canberra faces in the Pacific.
National security has — because of China’s pact with Solomon Islands — emerged as a key election issue, along with the economy and climate change.
Australians vote in a federal poll on May 21.