CANBERRA – A Chinese ambassador said China’s engagement with the South Pacific island nations poses no threat to Australia, responding to fears that Beijing would establish a military footing in the Solomon Islands.
China’s envoy to Australia Xiao Qian tried to reassure his host country in a newspaper article published on Thursday amid reports of a planned trip to the Solomon Islands by a senior Chinese delegation following the conclusion of a bilateral security pact.
“Cooperation between China and the South Pacific island nations promotes the well-being of people on both sides, as well as regional prosperity and stability, and will by no means threaten Australia’s security,” Xiao wrote in The Australian Financial Review.
“China’s rise should not be seen as a threat to Australia,” Xiao wrote. He did not specifically mention the Solomon Islands or the Security Pact.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose Conservative government is seeking a fourth three-year term in next week’s election, said he disagreed with the ambassador that “Chinese government interference in the Pacific doesn’t matter.”
“I think it’s of great importance,” Morrison told reporters.
“I support Australian national interests, not the Chinese government’s view of what national interests are, whether in Australia or across the Pacific, and as such I’ve always taken a very strong stance on that,” Morrison added.
Australia and its allies, including the United States, fear the China-Solomon Islands Pact will result in a Chinese naval base being built less than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) off Australia’s northeast coast.
Solomon Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has claimed there will be no Chinese military base in his country, and China has denied seeking a military base in the islands.
Asked whether China’s rise should be seen as a threat to Australia, opposition leader Anthony Albanese told reporters, “China has changed its stance. They are more aggressive in the region.”
“We must have, in the words of the (President Joe) Biden administration, a competition without disaster,” Albanese said.
According to media reports, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi is planning a trip to the Solomon Islands.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday that he had no information to release about Wang’s travel plans.
Sogavare’s office did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment on reports of Wang’s upcoming visit.
Solomons MP and chairman of Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee, Peter Kenilorea, said the visit could take place late next week, The Australian Financial Review reported.
Kenilorea did not immediately respond to a call from The Associated Press on Thursday.
Some senior Australian government lawmakers have suggested Beijing timed the Solomon Islands Pact announcement during an election campaign to undermine the ruling coalition’s chances of retaining power in the May 21 election.
“It is of course provocative that China has made this decision, especially during an election campaign, and I think we need to look again with open eyes at what is happening in our region,” Defense Secretary Peter Dutton said on Wednesday.
The centre-left opposition Labor Party has called the China-Solomon Islands pact Australia’s worst foreign policy blunder in the Pacific since World War II.
Government lawmakers argue Beijing wants a change of government because Labor lawmakers would be less resistant to Chinese coercion.
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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/05/12/chinese-ambassador-says-solomons-pact-no-threat-to-australia/ Chinese Ambassador Says Solomon Islands Pact Is No Threat To Australia