Solomon Islands politician ‘extremely disappointed’ Australia ignored warnings over military deal with China

The Solomon Islands opposition leader says he warned Australian officials last year that China was negotiating a military pact that could see a base established on the strategically located Pacific nation.

News of the proposed deal is causing growing concern across the region and an analyst is warning that Beijing could soon gain a foothold in Papua New Guinea.

In an interview with the ABC, Matthew Wale – who leads the Democratic Party – said he warned Australian officials as early as August that China was likely to try to establish a military presence in the Solomon Islands.

“I hinted to the Australian High Commissioner and officials that this was brewing, even as early as last year – all the indications were there and the Australian Government did nothing about it – so I’m hugely disappointed to the Australian government,” he said.

Matthew Wale says he flagged a potential pact with China last year.(Provided)

In November, Australia deployed troops and police to Honiara to help quell days of anti-government riots, but DFAT officials were alarmed when an offer to help law enforcement from China was also subsequently accepted.

Now Mr Wale is suggesting Australia take steps to bolster its existing bilateral security deal with the Solomon Islands to help kill China’s push for a security pact.

“We have benefited from this treaty with Australia, what can’t this treaty give us, maybe this should be discussed with Australia, New Zealand rather than ‘enter into a new treaty with China.’

A federal government spokesperson told the ABC that “Australian officials regularly engage with Solomon Islands stakeholders on issues relevant to Australia and our region.”

“We continue to engage openly and transparently at all levels with the Solomon Islands government on its security arrangements,” the spokesperson added.

Liberal MP Warren Entsch, whose constituency of Leichhardt in Far North Queensland is less than two thousand miles from the Solomon Islands, remains optimistic the deal with China will not be signed.

“There’s a lot going on there that we’re still working with them on, it sort of came out of nowhere,” he said.

“I see Chinese announcements frequently, but ultimately I haven’t seen anything come to fruition yet.”

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China ‘could soon gain a foothold’ in PNG

A prominent defense analyst has warned that China is likely to push for a future military presence in Papua New Guinea as it works to finalize a contentious security pact with neighboring Solomon Islands.

In 2020, concerns were raised in Australia when Papua New Guinea signed a memorandum of understanding with a Chinese company to build a $200 million “comprehensive multifunctional fishing industrial park” on Daru Island. .

Former army intelligence officer and University of New South Wales professor Clinton Fernandes says China is making strong progress in Papua New Guinea, just as it did in the Solomon Islands.

“Next on the agenda is the Daru Island region off the coast of Papua New Guinea, which is going to have a Chinese presence and before too long a pro-China party will win the national elections in Papua New Guinea,” he said.

Professor Fernandes said the same factors are at play in Papua New Guinea as in the Solomon Islands, where Australian foreign aid is seen as ineffective in countering China.

“We also interfered in their politics – when the Solomon Islands wanted to build an undersea internet cable between them and Sydney – we insisted on which company would get that contract,” he said.

“The current Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands has not forgotten this episode and the same dynamic is at work in Papua New Guinea, where a large part of the aid budget actually goes to the salaries of foreign consultants. “.

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