Warning Australia is 'less secure' after China inks 'historic' deal

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China has officially signed a security agreement with Australia's regional neighbour the Solomon Islands, in what has been described as Australia's worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific since World War II.

China on Tuesday announced it had signed the controversial agreement that will allow Chinese police to protect infrastructure and social order in the Pacific nation, and could pave the way for military installations less than 2000 kilometres from Australian shores.

The inking of the deal comes despite strong overtures from Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong says the signing of the agreement shows Australia's region is being reshaped by an increasingly combative China.

"Despite all of his tough talk, on Scott Morrison's watch our region has become less secure," she tweeted.

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong has lashed the Morrison government over its handling of the agreement which it knew about in August. Source: AAP
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong has lashed the Morrison government over its handling of the agreement which it knew about in August. Source: AAP

Speaking to ABC radio on Wednesday, she described it as "the worst failure of Australian foreign policy in the Pacific since World War II".

"The risks Australia faces have become much larger," she added.

Reacting to the news the deal had become official, the ABC's East Asia Correspondent Bill Birtles (who was whisked out of China in September 2020) said it marks a potentially ominous moment.

"This well might be an historic day if, as many believe, the purpose of this deal is to pave the way for the first Chinese naval base in the South Pacific. Otherwise it's a curious deal for Beijing to care so much about the domestic security of a small South Pacific nation," he tweeted.

However it's important to note that Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of the Solomon Islands told parliament that a proposed security agreement would not include a Chinese military base.

Australia and US 'deeply concerned'

Senator Wong accused the prime minister of failing to send Foreign Minister Marise Payne to the Solomon Islands to address Australia's concerns, despite the government being "warned of this security pact in August".

Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja last week travelled to Honiara to ask Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare not to sign the agreement.

Together with the foreign minister, Senator Seselja issued a statement on Tuesday evening outlining Australia's "deep disappointment" with the signing of the co-operation agreement.

"We respect Solomon Islands' right to make sovereign decisions about its national security," the senators wrote.

"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."

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, left, and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in Beijing in 2019. Source: AAP
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, left, and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in Beijing in 2019. Source: AAP

The US, meanwhile, was so concerned about the ramifications of the deal it had dispatched its top diplomat for the region, Kurt Campbell.

However before Mr Campbell touched down in the region, China's foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the deal had been signed.

The White House said it was concerned about "the lack of transparency and unspecified nature" of the pact.

A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said the reported signing "follows a pattern of China offering shadowy, vague deals with little regional consultation in fishing, resource management, development assistance and now security practices".

with wires

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