China has pushed forward new plans in the Solomon Islands, triggering a major warning for Australia.
It seems that the security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands was only the first step in Beijing’s attempt to expand its influence in the region.
The move has raised concerns in the Pacific region over Beijing establishing a permanent military presence on the island, with former Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying such a situation would be a “red line” for the country. ‘Australia.
Exact details of the deal have not been made public, however, both countries deny any military plans.
Now a survey by ABC Four corners revealed China’s attempts to secure a strategic port, as well as how cash from Beijing is said to have helped keep controversial Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in power.
One of the main assets targeted by Beijing is a hardwood forest plantation on the island of Kolombangara, which also includes a protected port, a deep-water port and an airstrip.
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The program claims that in 2019, a delegation from China Forestry Group Corporation visited the island, with one of the members making a point of asking about the length of the wharf and the depth of the water.
Covid-19 border restrictions put the talks on hold, but it is understood talks around the strategic location have since resumed.
Solomon Islands MP Silas Tausinga said Four corners that he thinks China has not abandoned its military ambitions in the Solomon Islands, which could cause problems for Australia.
“Absolutely Australia should be concerned about that,” he said.
The program also unearthed documents alluding to Beijing’s role in keeping Prime Minister Sogavare in power.
The documents reportedly revealed that a Chinese ‘slush fund’ had been activated twice in 2021, with almost $3million being distributed – but only to parliamentarians loyal to the prime minister.
It happens to have happened on the eve of a vote of no confidence that could have ousted Mr. Sogavare.
A letter signed by the Prime Minister claimed the Chinese Embassy in Honiara ‘consented’ to providing ‘additional support’ to the Solomon Islands in August last year, with Mr Sogavare describing the money as a stimulus package .
A second round of payments was activated a few weeks later, with most of the same MPs receiving the money, apart from one who had joined the opposition and another who had died.
Transparency International Solomon Islands chief Ruth Lilokula told Four Corners it was ‘corruption’, saying MPs were under no obligation to reveal how they spent the nearly $80,000 they had each received.
“China is keeping this government united. We all assume that China is controlling the government and affairs of the Solomon Islands from a distance,” she said.
An Albanian grilled on the “concerns” of China
During his first interview with ABC’s 7.30 last weekAnthony Albanese was asked if he suffered from “sleepless nights” and felt responsible for explaining to voters how tensions with China “could end in war”.
The show’s new host, Sarah Ferguson, peppered the Prime Minister with questions about China’s rise in the region and the implications for Australia.
“Your Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles says China’s rapid military buildup is giving him sleepless nights. Now that you’re prime minister, does that keep you awake at night?” asked Ferguson.
“It’s certainly a concern and something we’re very vigilant about,” Mr Albanese replied.
“We live in an era of strategic competition and significant change in what is happening in our region. We live in a time of real uncertainty.
But Mr Albanese said he hoped he never had to emulate his war hero John Curtin, who couldn’t sleep at night as he battled the threat from Japan in the region.
“I hope not. We want peace,” Mr Albanese said.
“We don’t want a military conflict. That’s why we must do everything to avoid it.”
It comes as former Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended his handling of Australia-China relations while in the top job, saying he never sought to provoke Beijing.
Mr Morrison has received backlash for his heavy-handed approach to tensions with China, with the Albanian government now trying to temper the relationship.
The former Prime Minister made these remarks at the Global Opinion Leaders Summit in Tokyo on Thursday evening.
In his speech, Mr Morrison pointed out that the AUKUS Security Pact and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue were responsible for the “deepest” change in the Indo-Pacific since China “started turning atolls into airports “.
Relations between Beijing and Canberra soured during the Coalition’s tenure, fueled by several disputes over tariffs on Australian exports of wine, barley, lobster and coal.
Mr Morrison’s decision to sign a landmark security pact with the US and UK has only fueled tensions.
He said Australia had recognized China’s economic achievements, but Beijing’s desire to reshape the region had crossed a line.
“I was delighted to be part of and lead an Australian government that took a strong stance in response to (the People’s Republic of China) assertiveness. We chose to resist, not provoke the PRC” , Mr. Morrison said.
The full episode of Four Corners airs tonight on ABC TV and ABC iview.
Originally published as ‘Australia should be worried’ about China’s moves to Solomon Islands