Australia will respond calmly to the Solomon Islands after it signed a security pact with China, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, dismissing a furious response by the leader of the Pacific nation to Western criticism of the deal.
In a fiery speech to parliament on Tuesday, Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said “we are threatened with invasion” but he did not name any countries or give evidence for his claim.
“None of that is true,” Morrison said on Thursday, responding to questions from reporters.
The security pact has become a major election issue for Morrison, who faces opposition party criticism that it made Australia “less safe” and was a major failing of diplomacy by his government. Western allies are concerned it could provide a gateway for a Chinese military presence in the Pacific.
Although details of the pact haven't been disclosed, Sogavare has ruled out a military base and said the deal covers policing to protect Chinese projects because an agreement with traditional partner Australia was “inadequate”.
Sogavare criticised Australia for referring to the Pacific as its “backyard”, saying this was an insulting term in local culture, where backyards are used to keep chickens, pigs and rubbish.
“We'll work constructively and patiently and we'll work in a professional way and a calm way,” Morrison told Nine Network's Today show.
Sogavare made the comments during a parliamentary debate and in response to criticism of the security pact from his country's opposition parties, provincial leaders and local media.
Solomon Islands foreign minister Jeremiah Manele said the China pact “does not undermine our security arrangement with Australia”.