Federal election 2022: PM faces heat over Solomon Islands’ deal with China after ‘invasion threat’ claim

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Annabel HennessyThe West Australian
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VideoChina's security pact with the Solomons Islands weighs on Morrison's election campaign.

Scott Morrison is facing heat over the ongoing Solomon Islands fallout, with the PM rejecting accusations he started a war of words which has just driven the Pacific Islands nation closer to China.

Despite previously warning that a Chinese military base on the Solomon Islands would be a “red line” and Defence Minister Peter Dutton declaring Australia needed to prepare for war, the PM on Thursday insisted “calm” was needed.

It comes after Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare launched a tirade against Australia in his country’s parliament, claiming there had been “warning of military intervention” and the Solomon Islands had been “threatened with invasion”.

Australia has a long-standing relationship with the Solomon Islands and is meant to be its primary security partner.

After the nation signed a security deal with China, Mr Morrison warned that if a Chinese military base was set up in the Pacific Islands nation it would be a “red line” for Australia and the US but refused elaborate on exactly what this meant.

IPSWICH, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 08: Australian Defence minister Peter Dutton speaks during a press conference at the Amberley Air Base on April 08, 2022 in Ipswich, Australia. The Australian government is sending a total of 20 Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles to Ukraine following a direct request for assistance by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during his virtual address to the Australian parliament last Thursday. (Photo by Dan Peled/Getty Images)
Camera IconDefence minister Peter Dutton has been accused of stoking tensions with the Solomon Islands after it signed a deal with China. Credit: Dan Peled/Getty Images

When asked at his press conference in Sydney on Thursday whether this war of words had simply driven the Solomon Islands closer to China, the PM denied this was the case claiming Australia needed to be “calm and composed”.

“No. What we need to be conscious of is we need to be calm and composed when we deal with these issues that arise. Prime Minister Sogavare has entered into a secret arrangement with the Chinese government,” he said.

“He has done that with a number of his cabinet ministers. That didn’t come as a surprise to our Government and now we just work responsibly with our partners to manage that situation, to first protect the security interests of Australia but also of the Solomon Islands. We are concerned for the Solomons.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference after visiting CTP Enginnering on Day 19 of the 2022 federal election campaign, in George Town, in the seat of Bass. Friday, April 29, 2022. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Camera IconScott Morrison has called for calm. Credit: MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

Mr Morrison has faced criticism from Labor after it was revealed he had not spoken to Mr Sogavare since they signed the deal, but he insisted he was “looking forward” to talking with the “Pacific family” if given the chance.

“We are concerned for the Solomon Islands, for the broader security in the south-west Pacific. Other leaders that I have been in regular contact are equally concerned,” the PM said.

“Should I have the opportunity, I am looking forward to sit down with all of the Pacific leaders so we can talk to each other as family about the risk this presents, not just in the Solomon Islands but across the Pacific.”

Foreign policy experts have previously told The West Australian that the current politicalisation of Solomon Islands relationship with China in the middle of an election campaign was unhelpful and more about politicians trying to score points than anything else.

Some have also said they believe it is unlikely a military base would actually be set up by China at the Solomon Islands at this point.

Asked on Thursday what he would do to repair the relationship, Labor Leader Anthony Albanese said it was “not simple” but criticised Mr Morrison for not speaking directly to Mr Sogavare.

“What we would do to repair the relationship is not simple. The fact that the Prime Minister hasn’t picked up the phone to Prime Minister Sogavare says an enormous amount about what is needed, in terms of that relationship,” he said.

“We have outlined a comprehensive Pacific plan. It is about increased aid, dealing with climate change, including hosting a (United Nations Conference of Parties) along with the Pacific Island nations.

“It is about people to people relations, including parliamentary visits. It is about making sure that we have a migration program that allows people from the Pacific to settle here. What they will do is make remittances back to the Solomons and back to other Pacific Island nations.”

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