Australian PM accused of massive foreign policy failure

Morrison fending off opposition criticism for not sinking the recently signed Solomon Islands? security agreement with China

The Solomon Islands is a sovereign nation, so twisting its arm to prevent it from signing a security pact with China would have been the wrong move, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison argued on Wednesday. He was responding to opposition criticism of his government’s failure to stop the deal, which was described as a “massive foreign policy failure” on his part.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese and the opposition party’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Senator Penny Wong, lambasted the government over the controversial deal during an election campaign event in Queensland state on Wednesday.

“Australia needs to do more than step up with the slogan in the Pacific, it needs to step up with real engagement, deep engagement, with our Pacific Island neighbours,” Albanese said.

Morrison defended his government’s actions, saying his government respected Honiara’s sovereignty. Australia was treating the people of the Solomon Islands like brothers rather than kids to be bossed around, he said.

“Our view is largely that we’re not trampling around telling leaders in [the] pacific islands what they should and should not do. You work with them with respect and care,” he said.

The prime minister further defended his decision to send Pacific Minister Zed Seselja to China last week in a last-ditch attempt to stop the deal from being signed. The opposition said it should have sent Foreign Secretary Marise Payne in her place. Morrison said Australia had to “calibrate” its diplomacy when dealing with sensitive issues.

The security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands was greeted with concern by the United States and its Pacific allies, including Australia. Beijing confirmed their signature on Tuesday but, as per its usual policy, did not publish the text of the agreement.

Leaked text purporting to be a draft of the document included provisions for China to dock its military ships on the islands and use its police forces “to help maintain social order” on behalf of Honiara.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told his nation’s parliament on Wednesday that his government signed the deal “with open eyes, guided by our national interests.” He touted Chinese help to strengthen the islands’ police force as one of the benefits of the pact.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that the deal could destabilize the Solomon Islands and set a “troubling precedent” for the entire Pacific region. Washington sent a delegation led by two senior officials responsible for Pacific affairs and security to Honiara this week.

In Australia, the foreign security deal became an election issue. The Labor Party and Prime Minister Morrison’s Liberal-National Coalition are vying head-to-head for a majority, with the opposition gaining ground in recent weeks. Federal elections are scheduled for May 21.


Leave a Comment