Australian, Solomon Islands Ministers discuss China pact

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that she met the Solomon Islands' Development Planning and Aid Coordination Minister Jeremiah Manele in the Australian east coast city of Brisbane

Published - May 07, 2022 12:36 pm IST - CANBERRA

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne. File

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne. File | Photo Credit: AP

Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne has met her Solomon Islands counterpart for the first time since the South Pacific island nation signed a security pact with China.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on May 7 that she met the Solomon Islands' Development Planning and Aid Coordination Minister Jeremiah Manele in the Australian east coast city of Brisbane as he transited through the airport on Friday night.

“Australia has been consistent and clear in stating our respect for Solomon Islands’ sovereign decision-making, however, we have reiterated our deep concerns about the security agreement with China, including the lack of transparency,” Ms. Payne’s office said in a statement.

Ms. Payne’s office said the pair agreed that Australia remained the Solomon Islands’ security partner of choice and that the Solomon Islands would not host a foreign military base less than 2,000KM (1,200 miles) off Australia’s northeast coast. Mr. Manele could not be contacted for comment on Saturday.

Trade Minister Dan Tehan told Australian Broadcasting Corp. the two Ministers had a “very productive conversation.” “Australia said a Chinese base in the Solomon Islands was not in the interests of the region,” Mr. Tehan said.

“What we want to do is to be making sure that we’re presenting a very strong case as to why it is incredibly important that we don’t see militarisation of the Pacific islands,” Mr. Tehan said. Mr. Tehan said Ms. Payne and Mr. Manele also discussed how Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government needed to keep working on the bilateral relationship.

Mr. Morrison’s coalition is seeking a rare fourth three-year term in elections on May 25. The China-Solomon Islands security pact announced last month has become a major focus of the election campaign. After details of a draft pact were released, Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja, flew to the Solomon Islands’ capital, Honiara, on April 12 to unsuccessfully ask the government to abandon it.

The centre-left Opposition Labor Party said at the time that Ms. Payne, a more senior Minister than Mr. Seselja, should have been sent instead. Opposition leader Anthony Albanese welcomed Ms. Payne’s meeting with Mr. Manele. “It’s about time,” Mr. Albanese said.

Mr. Albanese has also criticised Mr. Morrison for not contacting his Solomon Islands counterpart Manasseh Sogavare since the pact was signed. Mr. Morrison has said he was following the advice of intelligence officials.

The Labour Party has condemned the pact as Australia’s worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific since World War II. Mr. Albanese has promised closer engagement between Australia and its South Pacific island neighbours if Labour wins government.

Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has suggested that Beijing timed the pact’s announcement during an election campaign to undermine her conservative Liberal Party’s prospects for reelection. Mr. Seselja arrived in Honiara on the same day that U. S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke with Mr. Manele about Washington’s plan to reopen an embassy in Honiara.

A U. S. delegation to Honiara led by Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council Indo-Pacific coordinator and Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, warned after the pact was signed that the United States will take unspecified action against the Solomon Islands should the agreement with China pose a threat to U. S. or allied interests.

Mr. Sogavare told Parliament this week that opponents of his new security pact with China had threatened his country “with invasion.” While not mentioning the United States or Australia by name, Mr. Sogavare said his country was “insulted” by the “lack of trust by the concerned parties.”

Mr. Sogavare has maintained that there would be no Chinese base in his country and China has denied seeking a military foothold in the islands.

A draft of the pact, which was leaked online, said Chinese warships could stop in the Solomon Islands for logistical replenishment and China could send police and armed forces there “to assist in maintaining social order.” The Solomon Islands and China have not released the final version of the agreement.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.