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China could have Solomon Islands military base within four weeks - The Sydney Morning Herald

By David Crowe and Eryk Bagshaw - 20.04.22

Australia is being warned to expect Chinese ships and aircraft to arrive in Solomon Islands within four weeks under a security agreement that has rocked the federal election campaign and sparked a ferocious Labor attack on the Coalition for waiting too long to try to stop the deal.

Security experts said the Chinese government would act swiftly to implement the deal by sending military forces to the Solomons during the election campaign in order to capitalise on the caretaker period in Australian politics and match the rapid development of bases in the South China Sea.

A leaked draft of the pact sparked headlines on March 24 after months of talk about ties between China and Solomon Islands, but the federal government did not send Minister for the Pacific Zed Seselja to meet Solomons Prime Minister Manessah Sogavare until April 13.

The speed of that response is now the subject of an extraordinary clash over security and defence in the middle of an election campaign. Labor leader Anthony Albanese has accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of failure on national security, a key issue where the Coalition believes it has greater support among voters.

With the United States sending a senior envoy to the islands to respond to the deal, Labor accused the government of failing to dispatch Foreign Minister Marise Payne to the region to fend off the Chinese advance after news of the agreement leaked on March 24.

Morrison said the outcome was serious but not a surprise given China’s attempts to interfere in the region. He said he had known of the negotiations for some time and believed it was better to deal with the matter quietly rather than send a cabinet minister to “stamp around” on the issue.

There are fears of a danger on Australia’s doorstep after Solomon Islands signs security deal with China.

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China could have Solomon Islands military base within four weeks - by David Crowe and Eryk
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