Marise Payne has denounced the ‘secret’ terms of the security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands, while insisting that ‘no document signed and kept out of public view’ would alter the commitment of Australia to meet the needs of Pacific countries.
The Foreign Secretary said the deal was “not transparent” – unlike the existing security treaty between Australia and the Solomon Islands – and was also hidden from other Pacific countries.
As the Coalition continues to reject Labor claims that it presided over Australia’s worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific in decades, Payne said other members of the “Pacific family” shared the concerns of Australia regarding the secret arrangement.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison relied on public promises by his counterpart, Manasseh Sogavare, that the Solomon Islands would not allow a Chinese military base or continued military presence.
But Payne revealed on Thursday that Australia had “continued to seek assurances on this and we will do so in the future”.
Payne made the remarks during a major pre-election foreign policy speech, in which she warned “we have entered a period that is becoming more dangerous, less stable and less prosperous.”
She called for “rules on anarchy” and argued the Coalition’s hard line against Beijing’s “growing assertiveness” had been vindicated.
“We took the lead,” Payne said at a United States Center for Studies event in Sydney.
“There is now a strong consensus among the Australian people that standing firm on our values and principles, even in the face of pressure, is the right approach for our long-term future.”
In a reference to China, Payne said “a region in which an authoritarian power is dominant does not bring us any closer” to Australia’s goal of a freer and more open Indo-Pacific.
But China’s signing of the security agreement with the Solomon Islands, 1,000 miles from Cairns, has complicated coalition efforts to project a strong national security message ahead of the May 21 election.
On Thursday, a key adviser to the prime minister of the Solomon Islands’ most populous province also expressed concern that the deal would allow Sogavare to use China’s armed police and military. personnel to stifle democratic dissent and retain power for years to come.
Payne implicitly dismissed claims that Australia had “dropped the ball” in the area.