Australia PM urges calm as Solomons leader cites ‘invasion’ claim

Tensions have risen since the Solomon Islands signed a security deal with China amid protests by Australia and the US.

Australian incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been battling criticism of his foreign policy after the Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China last month [File: Jason Edwards/Reuters]

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for a calm response after the leader of the Solomon Islands said he had been threatened with an “invasion”.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told his parliament this week that opponents of his new security pact with China have threatened his country and insulted it. Sogavare did not name those who had made the alleged invasion threat.

Both the US and Australia have told the Solomon Islands that a Chinese military presence in the Pacific island nation – located less than 2,000km (1,200 miles) from northeastern Australia – would not be tolerated.

“We need to be calm and composed when we deal with these issues,” Morrison told reporters on Thursday.

On the threat of invasion, Morrison said, “Of course, none of that’s true.

“I can tell you very clearly that I am following very carefully the advice that I get from our security intelligence agencies in how we are responsibly managing the issues in relation to this matter,” Morrison said.

“That is exactly what I’m doing.”

Morrison, who faces federal elections May 21, has been battling criticism of his government’s foreign policy after the Pacific island nation signed the security pact with China last month.

Morrison said last month that Australia and the US shared the same “red line” when it came to opposing a Chinese military base on the Solomon Islands. Neither Canberra nor Washington has said how they might respond to such a Chinese presence.

Sogavare has maintained that there will be no Chinese military base in his country. He also condemned the “glaring hypocrisy” of critics of his deal with China.

The US, Australia and the UK secretly negotiated a trilateral partnership announced in September that will allow Australia to obtain nuclear-powered submarines.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Sogavare’s criticism of those who opposed the pact “reflected the shared voice of the Pacific island countries”.

“It also proves that the accusations made by the US and Australia against China are purely double standards,” Zhao said.

‘We are insulted’ 

Without naming countries, Sogavare said there had been a “warning of military intervention” if other countries’ interests were undermined in the Solomons.

“In other words, Mr Speaker, we are threatened with invasion. And that is serious,” the prime minister said on Wednesday.

“We are being treated as kindergarten students walking around with Colt 45s in our hands, and therefore we need to be supervised,” he added.

“We are insulted.”

Sogavare’s government severed ties with Taiwan in September 2019 in favour of diplomatic relations with China, a switch that unlocked investment but stoked inter-island rivalries.

Last November, protests against Sogavare’s rule flared into riots in the capital Honiara, during which much of the city’s Chinatown was torched.

Australia deployed about 100 police and military peacekeepers in response to a request by the Solomon Islands. They were joined by forces from New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

Chinatown could not be saved “because our police were overwhelmed”, Sogavare said at the time, adding the “rules of engagement” precluded peacekeeper involvement. Sogavare said a “personal envoy” of Morrison had briefed him at the time that the peacekeepers could not protect Chinese businesses or the Chinese embassy.

Source: News Agencies