Australia would work with its allies to prevent China setting up a military base in the Solomon Islands, Prime Minister Scott Morrison vowed during a heated debate before May 21 elections.
China’s growing clout in the Pacific has become a hot political issue in Australia ahead of the polls, following Beijing’s announcement last month that it had signed a security pact with the Solomons.
The China-Solomons deal has not been publicly released but a leaked draft alarmed countries in the region, particularly sections that would allow Chinese naval deployments to the Solomons — less than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from Australia.
The deal sparked fears China may set up a military base in the Pacific state, though the Solomon Islands government has insisted this is not on the cards.
Morrison, whose conservative government is trailing the opposition in the latest opinion polls, has been criticized for failing to prevent China from signing the deal in a region where Australia has traditionally had great influence.
Opposition Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese described it in the televised debate as a “massive foreign policy failure.”
The prime minister has warned that establishing a Chinese military base in the Solomons would be crossing a “red line.”
Pressed during the debate on what that red line means, Morrison said: “Australia would work with partners to ensure that that type of an outcome would be prevented.”
Morrison added, however, that it would be “unwise” to speculate about specific measures that Australia might take to prevent a military base being established on the Solomons.
“The Solomon Islands government themselves have made it very clear to us that that is not an outcome that they are seeking or supporting either. I believe it is not in their national interest to have such a presence,” he said.