Australia’s foreign minister Penny Wong warned on a visit to Fiji on Friday that there were regional consequences to the Solomon Islands’ security pact with China, after her Chinese counterpart said interference in the deal would fail.
The two countries’ top diplomats are on competing visits to the Pacific islands.
Wong told reporters on Friday she had travelled to Fiji days after being sworn in to show the priority being given to the Pacific by the new Australian government.
Australia respects that Pacific nations make their own decisions on whom to partner with, but is concerned about the consequences of the Solomon Islands’ security pact, she said.
“There are consequences, we think that it’s important that the security of the region be determined by the region,” she said.
“The world has changed, there is a lot more strategic competition, there’s a lot more disruption of international norms - the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a demonstration of that. We hope to find our way through that with you,” she added.
China’s foreign minister Wang Yi told a news briefing in Honiara a day earlier that “smears and attacks” on the security pact “will be a dead end and any interference and sabotage will be doomed to failure.”
Wang said the security pact “aims to assist Solomon Islands in improving its policing and law enforcement capabilities and support Solomon Islands to better safeguard its social security while also protecting the safety of Chinese citizens and institutions in Solomon Islands”, according to details released by China’s foreign ministry.
China did not intend to establish a military base there, he said.
“China supports Pacific Island Countries in strengthening security cooperation and working together to address regional security challenges,” he said.
At a meeting in Fiji next week, Wang will seek a sweeping deal with 10 island nations on security and trade that has further unnerved the United States and its Pacific allies.
Chinese president Xi Jinping proposed a Global Security Initiative in a speech at the Boao Asia Forum in April, which Beijing has since sought support for in meetings with its diplomatic allies.
European Union special envoy for the Indo-Pacific, Gabrielle Visenten, told ABC radio on Friday that China’s seeking a region-wide deal with a security element is a clear sign of Beijing seeking to “tighten the knots” with Pacific nations, and the European Union would also step up its engagement in the Pacific.
Wang arrived in the small island nation of Kiribati on Friday, where he will stay for four hours, as part of an unprecedented eight nation tour of the region.
Wong was welcomed in a traditional ceremony on Friday morning by her Fijian counterpart, and will later meet Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to discuss climate change policy and an expansion of Australia’s visa program to allow Pacific workers to bring their families to Australia.