Australia seeks friendship with Solomons despite China pact

·2-min read

SYDNEY (AP) — Australia's defense minister said Friday that his nation wants to continue having a strong friendship with the Solomon Islands despite it signing a security pact with China.

Speaking on Australia’s Nine Network “Today” show, Peter Dutton said Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has been very clear that he is not going to allow a Chinese military base to be built on the islands and Australia is taking him at his word.

“The deal that has been signed between the Solomon Islands and China allows for a security presence on the Solomon Islands, that’s the whole basis of the agreement," Dutton added.

He said Sogavare “didn't have a bad word to say about Australia” in the leadup to signing the pact with China last month.

“He’s not saying that he doesn’t trust Australia or that he’s unhappy with the relationship, quite the opposite, in fact, but the Chinese operate by a very different rule than we do," Dutton said. "We see that in Africa and elsewhere, and the presence of a security force within the Solomon Islands is a key aspect of the agreement that they’ve signed.”

Sogavare told lawmakers in Parliament this week that opponents of the security pact have demonstrated a lack of trust and insulted his country.

Sogavare did not name the opponents. Both the United States and Australia have said a Chinese military presence in the Solomons — less than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from northeastern Australia — would not be tolerated. They haven't been more specific.

The pact has become an issue in campaigning before Australia holds elections on May 21.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended his government's management of relations with the Solomon Islands, while opposition leaders have said the pact is an Australian foreign policy failure.