China and Russia have reportedly been excluded from a major international navy conference in Sydney that’s expected to discuss the controversial Sino-Solomons security deal.
The ABC reports the two powerful navies were not invited to the first Indo-Pacific conference since the pandemic, with naval chiefs from 40 nations, including Solomon Islands, meeting in Darling Harbour from Tuesday.
The decision not to include China was prompted by “deteriorating relations” between Australian and Chinese militaries, the ABC states, while Russia was left out over its invasion of Ukraine.
China’s People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N) has attended the biennial gathering in the past, with six Chinese officers taking part in 2019.
The recent security agreement struck between China and Solomon Islands is expected to feature among the discussions which will also include talks on emerging undersea warfare.
It comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison asserted Beijing had made no secret of its ambitions in the Pacific, after fresh reports China was looking to build wharves and shipyards in the Solomon Islands.
A leaked copy of a memorandum of understanding between China and the Solomon Islands has revealed a draft agreement that would set up “deep-sea fishing bases” in the region.
Labor used the leaked report to hit out at the government’s handling of relations in the Pacific.
Mr Morrison said China’s ambitions in the region were well known.
“We are very aware of what’s happening in our region and of the pressures … the Chinese government is seeking to put on countries right across our region,” he told reporters on Monday.
“I am very concerned, as many other Pacific leaders are, about the interference and intrusion of the Chinese government into these types of arrangements and what that can mean for the peace, stability and security of the southwest Pacific.”
Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said while she could not verify reports of the leaked memorandum, it represented a concerning development in the region.
“If it’s true, it demonstrates the seriousness of what has occurred on Mr Morrison’s watch,” she told reporters in Adelaide.
“It also demonstrates that the sort of tough words he’s talking about, or trying to use, about red lines don’t appear … to be the way forward or appear to have much effect.”