Foreign Minister Marise Payne has indicated Australia would continue to seek assurances from the Solomon Islands that the Pacific nation would not allow a Chinese military base to be built.
Speaking at an event at the United States Studies Centre in Sydney on Thursday, Senator Payne criticised the recent security pact signed between the Solomon Islands and China, saying the deal was not transparent.
However, the minister defended the government’s handling of the situation, saying Australia had been dealing consistently with security threats in the region.
“(The security pact) is not transparent, it’s not open, unlike … Australia’s bilateral security treaty with the Solomon Islands,” she said.
“It is not something that has been made available to partners or discussed with partners, not just with Australia, but not with Pacific partners as well.”
The foreign minister said it was critical for there to be a regional response to issues in the Pacific.
“We will continue to work closely with the Solomon Islands, we have been engaging right across the region as well,” she said.
“The Pacific family is best placed to respond first to such security challenges.”
The coalition government has come under fire for its handling of the Solomon Islands, with some declaring it had taken its eye off the ball to the challenges in the Pacific and some of Australia’s closest neighbours.
The decision for the foreign minister not to go to the Solomons in the wake of the deal being signed, with Pacific Minister Zed Seselja sent instead, has also been attacked.
Senator Payne told the studies centre that multiple nations had expressed concern over the recent security pact.
“I have consistently acknowledged that this is a clear sovereign decision by a sovereign government. However, we know other members of the Pacific family share our concerns,” she said.
“We’ll continue talking with the Solomon Islands government about how the Pacific family is best placed to provide security assistance in our region.
“We have done that successfully, we will continue to do that.”
Speaking about Australia’s alliance with the US ahead of the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS treaty coming into force, Senator Payne said the alliance had helped bring stability to the broader region during uncertain times.
“Australia has been at the forefront of addressing this geo-strategic reality in our region,” she said.
“There is now strong agreement from amongst the Australian people that standing firm on our values and principles, even in the face of pressure, is the right approach for our long-term future.”