Experts have expressed concern over China's next move in the Solomon Islands after a landmark security pact was signed this week.
Richard McGregor, a Senior Fellow for East Asia at the Lowy Institute, described the situation as a "threshold event".
"I don't think there will be a massive Chinese naval base overnight in the Solomon Islands," he told ABC Afternoon Briefing on Thursday.
"But I would expect, and if I were the Chinese, I would move as quickly as I can while I have a friendly Prime Minister [Manasseh Sogavare] in Honiara and establish some presence there."
The controversial agreement — which has been described as "Australia's worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific since World War II" by the Labor party — could pave the way for Chinese military installations less than 2000 kilometres from Australian shores.
Mr McGregor said China asserting a presence in the area — whether that be through a refuelling stop or more police and paramilitary officers — will be a "key factor" in establishing a foothold in the Pacific.
"If you do that once you have a presence there it is very hard to unwind because you create a dependence, and so I can understand the panic," he said.
Earlier, Mr McGregor told the Australian that China "wants what the US has" — a permanent military presence in the Pacific.
The agreement between China and Solomon Islands— which was announced in Beijing on Tuesday— has been described as an "epic fail" of the Morrison government by Labor, who criticised them for not acting sooner to dissuade Solomon Islands from the deal.
The security agreement came at a pivotal point in the federal election campaign, with Labor leader Anthony Albanese saying more should have been done to prevent the deal from happening during the leaders' debate on Wednesday night.
Mr McGregor said while the agreement has come during the election, he doesn't think China planned to announce the agreement during an election campaign, but would be happy to "throw a bomb into Australian politics".
"In terms of broiling Australia or sticking it up Australia, I'm absolutely sure they are happy to do," he said.
China 'don't play by the same rules': Scott Morrison
Despite claims the Morrison government was blindsided by the China-Solomon Islands security deal, Mr Morrison said he has "known for some time" it was a possibility.
"This is why the first place I went to after the last election was the Solomon Islands," he said.
"And I spoke to the Prime Minister there on that occasion about the threats that China presented to the region, and we discussed those issues back on that occasion, and there has been an ongoing dialogue over that entire time."
Mr Morrison told reporters China doesn't play by the "normal rules" when making deals.
"They don't play by the same rules as liberal, transparent democracy," he said. "This is a secret deal, and the arrangements that are there are not public."
He then referenced Defence Minister Peter Dutton's comments earlier where he chastised China for "not playing by the same rules"
"Peter [Dutton] may have put it a bit more bluntly this morning, but he makes the right point," he said.
"We are dealing with an autocratic nation that is not playing by the normal rules on how they seek to influence other nations in our region, and other nations in our region I can assure you are very aware of that."
Xi Jinping says region's future should be in 'our hands'
On Thursday, China President Xi Jinping told the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2022 it was vital for China to play a role in maintaining peace and stability in the region.
"Asia should always keep the region's future in its own hands," he said, according to state-run media.
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