China hits back at Australia over Solomon Islands ‘red line’, saying ‘the Pacific is not someone’s backyard’

China has slammed Australia for opposing its security pact with Solomon Islands, calling it a colonialist myth-driven violation of sovereignty and saying Canberra had no right to lay down any “red line”.

This came as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a Chinese military base in the South Pacific nation would be a “red line” for his government, days after Beijing and Honiara confirmed the signing of the deal without revealing details.

Talk of China building a naval base on Solomon Islands was “purely fake news”, Chinese defence ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said on Thursday, accusing the Australian government and media of intentionally distorting facts and creating tension.

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Cooperation under the new security pact would involve “maintaining social order, protecting people’s lives and property, humanitarian assistance [and] natural disaster responses”, Tan reiterated.

Addressing an online event with Pacific Island nations the same day, China’s vice foreign minister Xie Feng said negotiating and signing a framework security cooperation agreement was “the sacred right of two sovereign countries” in line with international laws and norms, and no one had the right to point fingers at China.

“On what grounds can Australia draw a ‘red line’ for Solomon Islands, 2,000km [1,200 miles] away, and China, 10,000km away? If not an infringement of another country’s sovereignty, interference in another country’s internal affairs and a breach of international rules, what is this?”

Xie said Australia’s stance amounted to “disinformation, defamation, coercion and intimidation”, and proof that it was still “obsessed with colonialist myths, exercising coercive diplomacy, trying hard to control the Pacific islands to maintain a so-called sphere of influence”.

“The Pacific is the common home of regional countries, not someone’s ‘backyard’ or ‘turf’, and should be a stage for international cooperation, not a chessboard for geopolitical games,” he declared.

The China-Solomon security agreement is “open and transparent [and] not targeted at third parties,” Xie told a virtual event launching a cooperation centre on climate change for China and Pacific Island countries, in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong.

He said China understood the climate change challenges facing the island nations and was willing to provide help “as a good friend, partner and brother.”

Attending the event virtually were officials from Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Samoa, Tonga, Micronesia, Kiribati, Fiji and Vanuatu.

Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Chinese ambassador Li Ming attend the opening ceremony for a China-funded national stadium complex in Honiara on April 22. Photo: AFP alt=Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Chinese ambassador Li Ming attend the opening ceremony for a China-funded national stadium complex in Honiara on April 22. Photo: AFP>

“China has no selfish interest in developing relations and cooperation with Pacific Island countries,” Xie asserted. “[It] does not seek ‘spheres of influence’ or engage in bullying and coercion but is always a constructive force for peace and development.”

Since being announced last week, the China-Solomon Islands security pact has sparked strong concerns from the United States and its Pacific allies.

The White House sent a high-level delegation to Honiara to warn Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of unspecified action against his country. US ally Japan on Monday also dispatched a foreign vice-minister, saying the deal with Beijing could affect the security of the entire Asia-Pacific region, while fellow Pacific nation New Zealand has also questioned whether it will destabilise the region.

Australia, which is the Solomons’ biggest aid donor and has security ties with it, reacted even more strongly. It had tried to pressure Sogavare into not signing the deal when the news first broke in March.

And while Morrison has reiterated his opposition to a Chinese naval base, other politicians have presented even stronger rhetoric on the impact of the deal on Australia’s national security.

Sogavare has sought to reassure all that a Chinese base was not in the offing, urging critics to respect his country’s sovereign interests and said that traditional partners, such as Australia and New Zealand, remained important.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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