Australian prime minister defends his country's ties to Solomons
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday he was following security officials' advice in managing bilateral relations with the Solomon Islands after the South Pacific neighbor's leader alleged he'd been threatened "with invasion."
Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told Parliament on Wednesday that opponents of his new security pact with China had threatened his country and insulted it.
Sogavare did not name the United States or Australia. Both countries have told the Solomons that a Chinese military presence in the Solomons less than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) off the northeast Australian coast would not be tolerated.
"We deplore the continual demonstration of lack of trust by the concerned parties, and tacit warning of military intervention in Solomon Islands if their national interest is undermined in Solomon Islands," Sogavare said.
"In other words, we are threatened with invasion," Sogavare added.
On the threat of invasion, Morrison said: "Of course, none of that's true."
Morrison rejected the center-left opposition Labor Party's advice to telephone Sogavare.
"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 told reporters. "That is exactly what I'm doing."
Morrison added that he had had contact with Sogavare "in the last few months," but did not specify when.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has promised closer engagement between Australia and its South Pacific neighbors if Labor wins elections on May 21.
"The fact that the prime minister hasn't picked up the phone to Prime Minister Sogavare says an enormous amount ... about what is needed in terms of that relationship," Albanese said.
"The government has dropped the ball on the Pacific right now," Albanese added.
Morrison said last month that Australia and the United States shared the same "red line" when it came to opposing a Chinese military base on the Solomons. Neither Australia nor the United States have said how they might respond to such a Chinese presence.
Sogavare has maintained that there would be no Chinese base in his country.
"We are being treated as kindergarten students walking around with Colt .45s in our hands, and therefore we need to be supervised. We are insulted," Sogavare said on Wednesday.
Morrison said Australia needed to be "calm and composed" in dealing with the Solomons.
"Mr. Sogavare has entered into a secret arrangement with the Chinese government, he has done that with a number of his Cabinet ministers," Morrison said.
"That did not come as a surprise to our government and so now we just work responsibly with our partners to manage that situation to first protect the security interests of Australia but also of the Solomon Islands," Morrison said.
"We are very concerned for the Solomon Islands. We're very concerned for the broader security in the Southwest Pacific. Other leaders that I've been in regular contact (with) are equally concerned," Morrison added.
Labor has condemned the China-Solomons pact as Australia's biggest foreign policy failure in the Pacific since World War II.
Morrison said Australia remained the Solomons' preferred security partner despite the new pact.
Australia already has a bilateral security pact with the Solomons and Australian police peacekeepers have been in the capital, Honiara, since riots in November.