Australia says Solomon Islands security deal won't end defence cooperation

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Australia says Solomon Islands security deal won't end defence cooperation

Australia's foreign minister said yesterday that a controversial security deal between the Solomon Islands and China would not mean the end of her country's defence cooperation with the Pacific nation.

Marise Payne told ABC that an existing bilateral security treaty between Australia and the Solomon Islands would continue even if the nation ignored Canberra's entreaties and signed a security pact with China.

She noted that the assistance force made of Pacific family countries - Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea - went to the Solomon Islands at the end of last year to help them deal with the unrest sparked by protests against Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

A leaked draft of the Solomon Islands-China deal prompted fears in Canberra last month that it would open the door to a greater Chinese military presence in the Pacific.

Provisions that would allow Chinese security and naval deployments to the Solomon Islands and others were particularly controversial, because they required both nations to keep the existence of security missions secret.

Since the deal became public, Sogavare has been adamant that he has no intention whatsoever. In a sign of Australia's mounting anxiety about the deal, Pacific Minister Zed Seselja was sent to Solomons capital Honiara for an unusual mid-election campaign meeting with Sogavare, and they were very important assurances that China would build a military base in the Solomon Islands.

He asked the Solomon Islands leader to consider not signing the agreement, but the prime minister was not persuasive.

After the meeting, Sogavare said that he will send his foreign minister to other countries in the region to expound on the security deal, with a view that a strong and stable Solomon Islands is healthy for the security of the region.