PM defends role in Pacific amid China deal

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Sending the Pacific minister instead of the foreign minister to the Solomon Islands amid security negotiations with China was the right course of action, the prime minister maintains.

Scott Morrison defended his national security credentials in the wake of Labor branding the Sino-Solomon security pact Australia's worst foreign policy failure since World War II.

Diplomacy in the region cannot be heavy-handed or impinge on the sovereignty of the nation, Mr Morrison said.

"I'm very conscious of how visits are perceived within the Pacific. This was the right calibrated way to address this issue with the prime minister," Mr Morrison said.

"One of the things you don't do in the Pacific is you don't throw your weight around. They're a sovereign country and we have to respect their sovereignty."

Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong says a Chinese security agreement with a nation 1600km from Cairns has made the region less secure under Mr Morrison's watch.

"The government should have acted sooner. What this deal signifies is that Australia is no longer for the Solomon Islands a nation to whom they turn to meet their challenges in every instance," Senator Wong said.

But Mr Morrison says "you can't always be fully persuasive on these issues", outlining his respect for the nation's sovereignty.

"Now with this arrangement, we need to ensure we work with them to see that Australia's interests aren't compromised ... (and) that their strength and their sovereignty is not compromised by these types of arrangements."

Mr Morrison said the Solomon Islands government had stated it would not allow any Chinese naval bases.

But Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce didn't rule out the possibility of a Chinese base in the Solomons.

"(It's) dual-purpose, which means China is able, if they follow through, to set up a military base there.

"That's a very bad day for Australia. We don't want our own little Cuba off our coast."

Former foreign minister Julie Bishop also didn't rule out the presence of a military base given the details of the final agreement haven't been made public.

"That could well mean there will be Chinese military bases on Solomon Islands," she told the Ten Network.

"I would be greatly concerned and I believe our foreign minister should be on the next plane to the Solomon Islands to see what's actually been agreed and how that impacts the security in the region more broadly."

China could also move to establish a base by stealth, Australian Strategic Policy Institute's Malcolm Davis says.

"The Chinese are a powerful player and once they get a presence, an influence, in a country it's virtually impossible to get them out," he told the Nine Network.

"What you will see over the next year to two years is China increasing the pressure on the Sogavare government to establish what might look innocently at first as a police presence.

"Suddenly you find additional elements coming in and you end up with a military base by stealth."

Foreign Minister Marise Payne says Australia remains concerned about the lack of transparency regarding the agreement.

"Security issues have been dealt with in a Pacific-wide manner, that's the traditional approach for these issues, and that's why some Pacific partners have also raised concerns," she told the ABC.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told the country's parliament the agreement, centred around domestic security, was guided by the country's national interest.

"Let me assure the people that we entered into an arrangement with China with our eyes wide open, guided by our national interests," he said.

"We have full understanding of the fragility of peace and our duty as a state to protect all people, their property and critical national infrastructure of the country."

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