Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom (AUKUS), which condemned China and the Solomon Islands for a security cooperation deal, are the ones militarizing the South Pacific and provoking a new arms race in the region, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday.
“Australia, together with the US and the UK, is forming a military bloc and provoking an arms race in the South Pacific without any consultations with island countries of the region,” Zhao said at a press briefing.
The spokesman urged Australia to reconsider its actions concerning the issue.
Last September, Australia, the US and the UK announced the new trilateral defense partnership, which forced Canberra to give up on a $66 billion contract with France to develop 12 state-of-the-art conventionally powered attack submarines, as the alliance promises to enhance Australia’s fleet with nuclear-powered submarines.
On April 19, China and the Solomon Islands signed a framework agreement on security cooperation. Australian officials accused the Solomon Islands of a lack of transparency for fear of China’s growing influence.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the construction of a Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands would be a “red line” for Canberra and Washington.
Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands Manasseh Sogavare, in turn, accused Australia of hypocrisy, stressing that Canberra had not discussed the AUKUS deal with the neighboring countries either.
In addition, Chinese high-ranking officials said that the Honiara-Beijing framework agreement does not involve the construction of military naval bases on the islands and is not directed against any third country.
Earlier, as EurAsian Times reported, the Solomon Island government’s confirmation on the security deal with China had alarmed both Australia and New Zealand.
“The government is working to sign off and implement several development frameworks with China to further create a secure and safe environment for local and foreign investments,” read the statement from the office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The government issued the statement after the deal’s draft circulated on social media.
According to the leaked papers, Beijing will be allowed to deploy forces to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands.”
According to the document, the island nation could also “request China to send police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces.”
Besides, there is a provision for China to “make ship visits, to carry out logistical replenishment in, and have stopover and transition in the Solomon Islands.”
The pact comes at a time when Australia and the US have become wary of China in the region, particularly after reports of recent Chinese military build-up on three islands in the South China Sea.
“We want peace and stability in the region. We don’t want unsettling influences and we don’t want pressure and coercion that we are seeing from China continuing to roll out in the region,” Australia’s Defense Minister Peter Dutton said in an interview with Channel Nine news.
“We would be concerned at any military base being established and we would express that to the Solomon Islands government,” Dutton further added.
China and the Solomon Islands signed a framework agreement on security cooperation, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin earlier confirmed.
“As approved by the governments of China and Solomon Islands, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade Jeremiah Manele, on behalf of the governments of China and the Solomon Islands respectively, officially signed the inter-governmental framework agreement on security cooperation between the two countries the other day,” Wang told a briefing.
The agreement seeks to enhance “social stability and long-term tranquility in the Solomon Islands,” he said, stressing that China-Solomon Islands security cooperation is not targeted at any third country, serving the common interests of the South Pacific region.
“The two sides will conduct cooperation in such areas as maintenance of social order, protection of the safety of people’s lives and property, humanitarian assistance and natural disaster response, in an effort to help the Solomon Islands strengthen capacity building in safeguarding its own security,” Wang added.
The United States raised concerns over a draft China-Solomon Islands security accord, with US State Department spokesman Ned Price pointing to “the broad nature of the security agreement,” which may enable China to deploy its military forces in the country. The agreement, he said, could stir up instability in the Solomon Islands and “set a concerning precedent for the wider Pacific Island region.”
The US State Department also announced that two of its high ranking officials, Kurt Campbell and Daniel Kritenbrink, will travel to the Solomon Islands to transmit Washington’s concerns over China’s rising activity in the region and similar concerns expressed by US allies in the South Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand.
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