Australia’s minister for international development and the Pacific has received a biparitsan blessing to visit the Solomon Islands (from 12-13 April) to raise with government representatives concerns Beijing wants to station its navy ships in the country.
Zed Seselja’s visit to Honiara is unusually occurring during the Australian government’s caretaker period, which required the support of the opposition party, given the high priority nature of the diplomatic concern.
The situation concerning the China security agreement came to light after documents were produced suggesting Beijing wanted to protect billions of dollars in Chinese infrastructure investment in the country by stationing navy ships and defence forces in the Pacific nation.
“Solomon Islands is a valued member of our Pacific family. We respect the right of Solomon Islands to make sovereign decisions about its national security,” Seselja said in a statement.
“We look forward to ongoing engagement with Solomon Islands, and with our Pacific family members, on these very important issues. Our view remains that the Pacific family will continue to meet the security needs of our region.”
The Pacific family demonstrated our trust & strength when responding to security challenges in our region by working together in the SIAF to restore calm in Honiara.
Thank you to personnel from 🇦🇺, 🇫🇯, 🇵🇬 & 🇳🇿 deployed as part of the SIAF. #StrongerTogether pic.twitter.com/xdbYhrJyNo
— Zed Seselja (@ZedSeselja) April 13, 2022
During his trip the minister will meet with members of the Solomon Islands Assistance Force (SIAF), as well as continue conversations between Australian officials and the Solomon Islands government.
“My discussions will include the proposed Solomon Islands-China security agreement.
“Direct engagement has been ongoing, including discussions between foreign minister Marise Payne and Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Manele, as well as my own discussions with Pacific family partners in Brisbane over the weekend ahead of the Our Ocean Conference in Palau,” Seselja said.
On Tuesday new reports — believed to have been leaked by Solomon Islands public servants — emerged that the Chinese embassy in the Solomon Islands had attempted to bring a sniper rifle, two machine guns and other ammunition into the country during the violent civil riots in 2021. Chinese riot police were among the international security forces who helped the Solomon Islands government control the violently escalating situation.
While Labor supports Seselja’s visit, the ABC reports shadow foreign minister Pat Conroy will not be joining him on the trip.
Foreign affairs spokesperson for Labor, Penny Wong, said the draft security pact drew serious questions about how the Coalition was dealing with Beijing.
“This is happening on Mr Morrison’s watch — the warnings have been there for months, the draft agreement public for weeks — but he has failed to front up and explain how Australia is responding,” Senator Wong said.
“We need to work with the Pacific family and allies to build a region where sovereignty is respected — and where Australia is the partner of choice.”
Top US diplomat Kurt Campbell is also expected to fly to Honiara this month to meet with prime minister Manasseh Sogavare.