Australia will continue to support the Solomon Islands despite tensions over the Pacific nation’s security deal with China, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has told the Solomon Islands parliament the country was being treated like kindergarten students who needed to be supervised.
In an incendiary address, Mr Sogavare pushed back at warnings from the US and Australia that a Chinese military presence in Solomon Islands would not be tolerated, although he did not name either nation.
“We deplore the continual demonstration of lack of trust by the concerned parties, and tacit warning of military intervention in Solomon Islands if their national interest is undermined in Solomon Islands,” he said.
“In other words, we are threatened with invasion.
“What is more insulting in this attitude, and therefore totally unacceptable, is we are being treated as kindergarten students walking around with Colt .45s in our hands, and therefore we need to be supervised. We are insulted.”
It’s the second time this week Mr Sogavare has taken aim at Australia, having earlier labelled as “offensive” a reference to the Solomons being in Australia’s backyard.
It followed Mr Morrison warning that China establishing a military base in the Solomons would be a “red line” for Australia. US Indo-Pacific co-ordinator Kurt Campbell has also said the US would “respond accordingly” to any efforts to build a Chinese military presence in the Pacific Islands nation.
Mr Morrison said Mr Sogavare was free to express his opinion but it wouldn’t stop the Australian government having a relationship with the Solomon Islands.
“We’ll continue to work constructively with the Solomon Islands government as we always have,” he told the Nine Network on Thursday.
“It means that we deal with these things diplomatically, we do with it professionally, calmly, rationally in dealing with the many challenges that are in the Pacific, and that’s what we do every single day.”
Yet Mr Morrison admitted on Wednesday he had not yet contacted Mr Sogavare since the comments had been made.
“I’d be looking forward to the opportunity on the other side of the election to continue to manage that relationship positively,” he said in Adelaide.
“We are Solomon Islands’ primary security partner. That is something that the prime minister has conveyed to me again and that is what remains the case.”
Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong was surprised Mr Morrison was yet to speak to Mr Sogavare.
“Quite a lot of the way in which Prime Minister Morrison has dealt with this issue has surprised me. I think Australians have been surprised,” she told ABC radio.
Senator Wong said she looked forward to speaking to Mr Sogovare if Labor wins the May 21 election.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said a government he led would have a constructive relationship with Pacific nations, citing his party’s policy of people-to-people relationships.
“But it’s also about taking up the issues that are of great concern to them,” he told ABC radio, nominating climate change as the No.1 priority.