Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that a Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands would be a red line for his government, as he attempts to deflect criticism that he did not move quickly enough to avoid a security agreement between Honiara and Beijing.
Speaking at a news conference on Sunday in Darwin, Morrison said that his determination to avoid a naval base in the Solomon Islands was shared not only by the U.S. but by the Pacific nation's Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare.
Morrison said Sogavare had personally assured him that there would be no military base in the Solomons. This is a shared concern, not just in Australia. He said that Australia has regional governments.
Morrison did not say anything when asked by reporters what he would do in the event of the announcement of a Chinese military base in the Solomons.
Australia's Liberal National Coalition is working to contain the political fallout from the announcement in the past week that the Solomon Islands had signed a security agreement with China, details of which have not been made public. A draft of the agreement leaked in late March would allow Chinese naval vessels a safe harbor just 2,000 kilometers from Australia's coastline.
Australia and the U.S. have been concerned about the possibility of China gaining a military foothold in the Pacific, and the agreement is a major diplomatic victory for the Chinese government. The pact was described as the worst failure of Australian foreign policy in the Pacific since World War II, according to the opposition Labor Party. Labor's shadow defense minister Brendan O Connor said he would ask for a briefing from the government on what it would do if the red line was crossed by China on Monday morning.
The fact that we have to use that type of language is too little, too late. He said that we should have been doing more.
Morrison's government is campaigning for a fourth term in power at a national election scheduled to take place on May 21. Despite Australia's strong economy and record low unemployment, Morrison's center-right government is trailing Labor in opinion polling.