The Australian prime minister has hinted that neighbouring Pacific nation Papua New Guinea has faced similar “pressure” from Beijing to consent to a security agreement like the Solomon Islands.
Morrison, who has been on the campaign trail, defended the approach of his government in dealing with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare—treading a fine line between respecting the country’s sovereignty and dissuading it from engaging with Beijing.
"[We] made very clear that Australia was not looking to go and stamp around, that we were going to deal with it constructively and respectfully,” he told reporters on April 20. “We keep reenforcing to all our Pacific family that will always be there for you in your interests and that is what we believe will ultimately prevail.
“Do you think there’s not the same pressure going on in Papua New Guinea that there is in the Solomon Islands? Of course there is. That is happening in all of those countries.”
The Morrison government has been criticised by the Labor Party opposition for dropping the ball on engagement in the South Pacific, with ministers citing a lack of action on climate change as well as cuts to aid.
Penny Wong, Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, called the latest incident the “worst foreign policy blunder.”
“The government should have acted sooner. We live in a world where the strategic circumstances we face are riskier and more uncertain than in any time since the end of World War II,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on April 20.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese pledged to visit the Solomons if he wins government.
“I would be engaging with the leadership of the Solomons. And I would have done it over a period of time,” Albanese told reporters in Queensland. “The problem is those relationships aren’t ones that can be done just during when there’s a crisis.”
He called Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare a “mercenary” of Beijing, and that Sogavare had longed for the day he could “exact revenge” on Australia—the prime minister has been a long-time critic of Australia’s involvement in the region, claiming it has been engaging in “colonialism.”
Wale said: “That day [of vengeance] has arrived, and he [Sogavare] has gladly thrust his sword into Australia’s back. China is only too happy to oblige Prime Minister Sogavare, there is a meeting of minds on this."