(Update 1: Adds New Zealand PM quotes, changes headline, lede, slug)
Sydney, Australia, Apr 20 (EFE).- Australia and New Zealand on Wednesday voiced concern over the signing of a contentious security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands, citing its potential to undermine stability in the Pacific region.
“We continue to seek further clarity on the terms of the agreement, and its consequences for the Pacific region,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a joint statement with Minister for International, Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja late Tuesday.
“We respect Solomon Islands’ right to make sovereign decisions about its national security. Our consistently stated view, including from the perspective of Australia’s national interests, remains that the Pacific family is best placed to meet the security needs of the region,” the statement added.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the pact highlights “the incredible pressure on Pacific nations that comes from China seeking to undermine the security of the region” and added that his country has focused on the Pacific over the years in an attempt to resist that pressure and influence, public broadcaster ABC reported.
However, Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong slammed Morrison’s administration on Wednesday, saying “this is the worst failure of Australian foreign policy in the Pacific since the end of World War II.”
“On Scott Morrison’s watch, our region has become less secure, and the risks Australia faces have become much greater,” she said, according to ABC.
Meanwhile, on an official visit to Singapore, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters on Wednesday she was also concerned about the pact.
“We see no need for this agreement. We’re concerned about the militarization of the Pacific, and we continue to call on the Solomons to work with the Pacific on any concerns about security they have,” she said, according to national broadcaster Radio New Zealand.
She added that the pact was signed before the Pacific Islands Forum had a chance to engage the Solomon Islands on the issue and that “we ask and continue to ask for dialogue with the whole region, not just New Zealand.”
In an address to parliament earlier in Wednesday, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said that his government had “entered into an arrangement with China with our eyes wide open guided by our national interests” and suggested that this alliance will help strengthen the country’s police forces.
“We intend to beef up and strengthen our police capability to deal with any future instability by properly equipping the police to take full responsibility of the country’s security responsibilities, in the hope we will never be required to invoke any of our bilateral security arrangements,” he added.
This pact, whose draft was leaked last month on social media, opens the door for China to send its security forces to the county to maintain social order as Australia and other nations in the region are already doing.
However, the controversy arose over concerns that Beijing would establish a military presence in the region, a possibility that has already been dismissed by the Solomon Islands prime minister. It has also raised concerns about setting a precedent for other small Pacific nations.
The signing of the pact, for which neither a date nor place has been specified, was announced by Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Tuesday night.
Wang stressed that the pact “does not target any third party,” referring to Australia and New Zealand, who are wary of Beijing’s growing influence in the Pacific.
Sogavare, who broke ties with Taiwan in 2019 to establish them with China, also faces strong opposition within the country.
Violent protests broke out in the country’s capital in November last year resulting in three deaths and the deployment of security personnel from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea at the government’s request.
According to another document recently leaked to the media, China requested to send weapons and personnel for the protection of its diplomats during the recent protests in Honiara, which took place in Chinatown among other areas, but this was rejected. EFE