Prime Minister Scott Morrison has today defended Australia’s relations with the Solomon Islands despite the Pacific nation’s leader slamming critics of its security deal with China.
Mr Morrison was speaking on Today after Solomons Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said he feared invasion by some countries.
“I will continue to work constructively with the Solomon Islands government as we always have,” Mr Morrison said.
“It means that we deal with these things diplomatically.
“We deal with it professionally, calmly, rationally, dealing with the many challenges that are in the Pacific.”
Mr Sogavare yesterday launched a broadside against countries critical of its new deal with China, claiming the Pacific nation had been “threatened with invasion”.
In a full-throated defence of the pact, which many experts fear allows China to establish a military presence less than 2000km from the Queensland coast, he hit out at the “glaring hypocrisy” of “some of our partners working with their agents on the ground”
“We are threatened with invasion, Mr Speaker, and that’s serious,” Mr Sogavare told Parliament.
But Mr Morrison insisted Australia would always be there for the Solomon Islands and other Pacific countries.
“We’re the single largest provider of development assistance to the Solomon Islands,” he said.
“They’re family and that’s how we see our relationship with all of those Pacific islands.”
Mr Morrison said Australia would continue working to build strong relations with its Pacific neighbours.
“We work constructively and patiently and we will work in a professional way and calm way … That why we have significantly increased our investment in the Pacific countries,” Mr Morrison said.
In his speech, Mr Sogavare said the Solomon Islands were being treated as armed “kindergarten students”.
“What is more insulting, Mr Speaker, in this attitude, and therefore, totally unacceptable, is 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, Mr Speaker We do not have to be warned, Mr Speaker, to be aware of the working out of their strategy.”
No Australian leaders have suggested any military intervention in the Solomons.
Mr Sogavare also claimed some local groups critical of the agreement didn’t represent the nation’s people but were “representing themselves … and their foreign masters”.
“On sovereign decisions … we have painfully assured them that they have nothing to be concerned about, on the specific issues they are worried about in our security arrangements with the People’s Republic of China,” he said.
Mr Sogavare hit out at a continual “lack of trust” from regional partners and a “warning of military intervention”.
Australia’s relationship with its neighbour, to which it has traditionally supplied police and defence aid through the RAMSI pact, appears to have soured significantly since Pacific Minister Zed Seselja tried to convince the Solomon Islands not to sign the deal.
In Tuesday’s lengthy address to fellow politicians, Mr Sogavare appeared to single out Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s concern about “a little Cuba” on Australia’s doorstep.
He claimed the Australian media was “trying to equate what they think is happening in Solomon Islands as the replica of the Cuban missile crisis at their doorsteps”.
“We understand that there is always at least two sides to every situation we see happening in the world today, including the Ukraine crisis that the western world is trying to get every nations to condemn,” he said.
“There is two sides to every story, Mr Speaker.
“But going back to Cuban crisis, Mr Speaker, Russia was not the aggressor in the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
He repeatedly hit out at the “masterminds” behind unrest in the Solomon Islands in November, which prompted a request for Australia to send AFP officers to help restore order.
The Prime Minister also repeated claims, rejected by Australia’s High Commissioner to Honiara, that protecting Chinese-built infrastructure was not within the rules of engagement for those forces.
He claimed there had been “trails of callousness” ever since the country switched its recognition of Taiwan to China in 2019, meaning it was “duty bound to enter into other arrangements to guarantee the safety of our economic infrastructures, and to restore investor confidence in the country.”
Federal ministers have regularly pointed to the security help Australia has provided its smaller neighbour over the years, particularly last year’s unrest in Honiara.
“Immediately upon being requested to send support to the Solomon Islands late last year, we did so,” Mr Morrison said last week.
“Our servicemen and women, they didn’t stay home for Christmas last year, they went and supported peace and stability in the Solomon Islands.”