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Solomon Islands China deal sees Kevin Rudd accuse Australia of neglecting Pacific Islands

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The Prime Minister has responded to a Chinese military deal with a Pacific nation that’s within sniffing distance of Australia.

Scott Morrison has insisted Australia remains a leader in the Pacific after the leaking of a draft security agreement revealed China’s plans to expand its military influence in the Solomon Islands.

Australian officials have raised concerns about the “framework agreement” between the two countries which would allow Chinese military forces to be ­deployed in the Pacific ­nation.

According to the draft agreement circulated on social media on Thursday, it would also allow Beijing to have a navy base less than 2000 kilometres from Australia’s coast.

The Prime Minister on Friday responded to criticism from the Opposition over his handling of Pacific relations by saying his government had increased overseas development assistance to the region by 50 per cent to $1.7bn.

“I would speak to Pacific leaders or be in text contact with leaders almost every day, and certainly every week – and we are constantly in discussions about the many challenges they face,” Mr Morrison said.

Successive coalition governments had cut Australia’s overall foreign aid budget until the Morrison government increased it with a number of temporary measures during the pandemic.

Mr Morrison said Australia was yet to decide if it would formally respond to the security deal between Solomon Islands and China.

“We’ll see how this progresses. I mean, one of the ways you deal with your Pacific family is you deal with it as family,” he said.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd earlier accused the government of neglecting its Pacific Island neighbours and claimed the coalition had cut “hundreds of millions of dollars” in international aid.

In a highly-critical radio interview on Friday morning, the former prime minister said Australia’s foreign affairs minister should be immediately dispatched to Solomons’ capital Honiara to smooth things over with diplomatic officials there.

Mr Rudd on Friday said the reported Beijing-Honiara security deal was in his judgment the result of a “high degree of negligence” on the part of Mr Morrison and senior frontbenchers including Defence Minister Peter Dutton.

“Relations with the island states has got to such a threadbare level over climate change, over the aid cuts and the rest that we now see the Chinese being welcomed into our immediate neighbourhood by these countries,” he told the ABC.

He pointed out that Solomon Islands’ government has only recognised the People’s Republic of China since 2019, when it voted to sever longstanding diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Mr Rudd is a Mandarin speaking diplomat who has become a regular public commentator on Chinese-Australian relations since his retirement from politics.

He held the prime ministership from 2007 to 2010 and again briefly in 2013 before Labor lost to the coalition, who have held power since.

Mr Rudd said Pacific nations were “turning to China” in part because Australia had “dropped the ball” on both international aid and climate change in the past decade.

“You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to work out where island sentiment across the states of the Pacific Islands Forum has turned in relation to Australia under this conservative government on (these) two core questions,” he said.

“You have the island states saying Australia ultimately under this government doesn’t give a damn about our interests (with) rising sea waters and the rest.

“And therefore it creates the conditions where other countries like China are able to make a pitch (to them).”

Anthony Albanese said the government’s decision to withdraw funding for Pacific nations including Solomon Islands had been a mistake.

“If the reports are correct, then this (security agreement) would have real implications for the region and is of concern,” the Opposition Leader said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne has been contacted for comment.

Read related topics:ChinaScott Morrison



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