News National Australia, NZ raise concerns over Solomons

Australia, NZ raise concerns over Solomons

Australia NZ Solomons
Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison have discussed the proposed Solomons-China security deal. Photo: AAP
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has spoken with his New Zealand counterpart about a proposed security agreement between the Solomon Islands and China.

A leaked draft security deal between the Solomon Islands and China showed Chinese ships would be based in the Pacific and have a navy base less than 2000 kilometres off Australia’s coast.

The proposed deal has triggered alarm bells about the potential militarisation of the Pacific.

Mr Morrison and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday discussed the deal and actions they believe could undermine the security and stability of the Pacific region.

Ms Ardern has expressed concerns, telling NZ radio she did not see a need for China to have a security presence in the Solomon Islands.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has travelled to Fiji to discuss the issue with Pacific leaders.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the backlash to his country’s security negotiations with China was insulting, Reuters reports.

Mr Sogavere told his parliament on Tuesday that the leaked security document with China was a draft and he would not give details on the content of any proposed deal.

“We have no intention … of pitching into any geopolitical power struggle,” he said, adding the Pacific island nation would not pick sides.

Mr Sogavare also said Solomon Islands had previously asked Australia to build a naval base. This was refused because Australia said it was inappropriate given its defence program with Papua New Guinea.

“We are not pressured in any way by our new friends and there is no intention whatsoever to ask China to build a military base in the Solomon Islands,” he said.

Mr Sogavare said he had exchanged text messages with Mr Morrison on the matter and also had written him a letter on Tuesday morning.

Australia and New Zealand have confirmed their ongoing commitment to the Solomon Islands Assistance Force.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese says Australia must engage more with Pacific island leaders.

“We need to be in a position whereby Australia is playing a leading role along with our allies in the Pacific because I’m very concerned about this announcement that appears to have been made in the Solomons,” he told ABC radio on Monday.

“The Pacific step-up needs to be more than a slogan. It needs to be backed up by action and respect for what our Pacific island neighbours are saying, for example, about climate change.”