Australia's Minister for the Pacific has visited the Solomon Islands in the middle of the federal election campaign to respectfully urge the Prime Minister not to sign a controversial security deal with China.
Senator Zed Seselja travelled to Honiara - with Labor's support during the caretaker period - to press the government's concerns over an agreement that could allow a Chinese military presence close to Australia.
After meeting with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Senator Seselja said Australia remained committed to supporting the Solomon Islands to meet its security needs swiftly, transparently and fully respect its sovereignty. Senator Seselja said Australia had been a strong partner in Solomon Islands for many years, supporting its security needs through the recent Solomons International Assistance Force and earlier through the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands.
Senator Seselja said that we asked Solomon Islands to consider not signing the agreement and consult the Pacific family in the spirit of regional openness and transparency, consistent with our region's security frameworks.
After his meeting with the ABC, Senator Seselja said that it was a frank discussion with Mr Sogavare.
He said we had a dialogue.
We expressed our concern and our opinion.
Australia can meet the security needs of the Solomon Islands and the region. All of the security needs of the Solomon Islands are taken care of by working together. An overseas trip by a minister during an election's caretaker period is considered unusual and highlights the growing anxiety in Australia over the soon-to-be-signed deal between China and Solomon Islands.
Under a leaked draft of the document, Beijing could be allowed to station navy ships and defence personnel to protect billions of dollars in Chinese infrastructure investment in the developing country.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed earlier today the suggestion that his government had dropped the ball on its relationship with Solomon Islands after a leaked draft of the security pact took Australia by surprise.
Mr Morrison insists that Australia continued to work closely with Honiara despite the Australian government currently operating in caretaker mode during the election campaign.
Morrison said that we will continue to work through these sensitive issues as a Pacific Islands family.
The suggestion that Australia should be heavy-handed in these matters is wrongheaded and completely misunderstands how these matters should be handled. David Berger, visiting commandant of the US Marine Corp., pointed out the geographic importance of Solomon Islands, while warning that the West is failing to block China's gradual advances across the Indo-Pacific.
General Berger made an appearance at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and said that the approaches we've taken in the last 10 years are not working out here.
We haven't figured out how to stop that, because we're not successfully deterring it because some people call it grey-zone or whatever you want to call it. General Berger also highlighted the modern-day strategic importance of the Solomon Islands, pointing out its significance during the pivotal World War II Battle of Guadalcanal.
Where are the Solomon Islands, matters, he said. Their location matters to the Solomon Islands. It is a point of contention and competition. Asked whether Australia had failed to stop the proposed Chinese security deal, General Berger responded: It's not for me to judge pass or fail. He said that it highlights the strategic location of places in the Pacific for sure.