China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters on Tuesday that the framework pact was recently signed by China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, and the foreign minister of Solomon Islands, Jeremiah Manele.
He did not give details of where, or precisely when, the signing took place.
China’s military could arrive at Australia’s doorstep sooner than expected, with Chinese ships and aircraft expected to touch down at the Solomon Islands in just weeks, it has been reported.
The SMH has reported security experts have warned authorities to expect the fleets to arrive within the month, as the global superpower looks to capitalise on the caretaker period in Australian politics – which runs from the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly until the election result is clear – and match the rapid development of bases in the South China sea.
A draft of the agreement leaked online last month, allowing China to send police and military personnel to the Solomon Islands “to assist in maintaining social order”, while also opening the door for Chinese warships to stop in port there for “logistical replenishment”.
China’s Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday that the deal had officially been signed “the other day”.
Defence analyst Malcolm Davis said if Chinese naval forces are based in the Solomon Islands, Australia will have to respond with a “fundamental change” in its military operations.
It would involve switching the focus from the traditional “sea-air gap” to the north and north-west of Australia, Dr Davis, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said.
“We now have to think more about defending the east coast … there will likely be more focus on better surveillance by naval, space and air assets to monitor Chinese activities,” he said.
A senior-level U.S. delegation met the Solomon Islands’ leader on Friday and warned that Washington would have “significant concerns and respond accordingly” to any steps to establish a permanent Chinese military presence in the Pacific island nations.
With the pact, China is essentially trying to establish a principle of using military force to protect its economic presence in places where it claims the government does not have the capacity, said Richard Herr, a law professor at the University of Tasmania who has advised several Pacific governments.
As the election campaign heats up, Labor leader Anthony Albanese has accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of failure on national security, a major issue that the Coalition believes it has great support among voters.
During last Leader’s Debate, Mr Morrison refuted the suggestion it was a policy failure, saying Australia had done its bit.
“This is a very serious issue and one that we’ve been conscious of for a very long time,” he said.
“That’s why we’ve increased our Pacific step-up funding to $1.8 billion a year to be supporting our Pacific family.”
Mr Albanese said the government’s move was “not so much a Pacific step-up” but “a Pacific stuff-up”.
“The truth is that we all know that China has changed. China has changed. It’s more aggressive. It’s more active in the region, and we need to understand that and respond to it,” he said.
In a poll late last year, more than 90 percent of Solomon Islanders said they wanted their country to work closely with liberal democratic countries instead of China, and 79 percent said they did not want their country to receive financial aid from China.
Australia’s failed attempt to pursue the Solomon Islands not to sign a security pact with China proves that Australia’s defense planners and political leaders are certainly inept in understanding Australia’s security needs and the strategic consequence of the Solomon Islands hosting Chinese Naval base in Australia’s doorstep.
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