Scott Morrison deflects US pressure for Australia to weigh in on China-Taiwan contest in the Pacific

05-Jun-2019 Intellasia | ABC | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Prime minister Scott Morrison has brushed aside American calls for Australia to weigh into the diplomatic contest between China and Taiwan in the Pacific.

Morrison met his Solomon Islands counterpart Manasseh Sogavare in Honiara this morning on his first trip overseas since winning the election.

Solomon Islands is one of six Pacific nations which recognise Taiwan, and the United States has signalled it would like Australia to use its influence in the region to make sure none of them switch allegiance to Beijing.

Last month, a senior US state department official visiting Canberra accused China of destabilising the Pacific by trying to poach Taiwan’s remaining allies.

There has been feverish speculation in Honiara about whether Morrison would press Sogavare on the topic.

Morrison did not say if they discussed the topic but told journalists that Australia would not exert any pressure on Solomon Islands over China.

“Decisions on those issues are entirely the province of the government of Solomon Islands,” he said.

“They are an independent sovereign country who will make decisions in their national interests.

“It is not our place to provide advice or guidance on those decisions.”

Morrison also sought to distance Australia from the broader regional contest between the United States and China, and denied that the Coalition’s Pacific step-up was driven by strategic anxiety.

“[The US] have their interests in the region, as do others,” he said.

“Our relationship with the Solomon Islands, our relationship with the Pacific transcends all of that.

“There is a great risk and a great danger in an analysis that only can see the world through such a binary prism. I certainly don’t. Australia certainly doesn’t.”

He sought to subtly assert Australia’s autonomy from the US in the Pacific, saying “Indo Pacific states” like Australia had to “maintain a very keen focus on their perspectives and insights into the world.”

Morrison also praised a recent speech by Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, who pleaded with the US and China not to force smaller states to “pick sides” as they competed with one another.

Morrison also deflects questions over climate change threat

Morrison has made the Pacific step-up a centrepiece of his foreign policy, and declared yesterday he was sending a “clear message” by making Solomon Islands his first overseas destination since regaining power.

Sogavare opened his meeting with Morrison by declaring that Australia was one of his nation’s oldest and deepest friends.

“This is a peaceful corner of the world and I think it’s in our joint interest to continue to protect the freedom and peace that we continue to enjoy in this country,” he said.

The Solomon Islands prime minister also lavished praise on Australia, saying it had “lifted this country up from what would have a been a disaster” by staging the RAMSI intervention in the wake of the 2003 riots.

Morrison made a brace of promises on this visit, including a pledge to redirect $250 million from the foreign aid budget to infrastructure projects in Solomon Islands.

But some politicians in Solomon Islands are still pressing Australia to do more to fight climate change.

Former Solomon Islands prime minister Rick Hou and prominent MP Peter Kenilorea both said yesterday that Australia needed to show greater ambition in the fight against climate change by cutting carbon emissions.

Today Morrison was repeatedly asked what he believed was the greatest threat to the Pacific.

The question was a clear reference to the Boe Declaration signed by Pacific Islands last year, which says that climate change is the preeminent security threat to the region.

Morrison responded by arguing that civil stability was the greatest security concern for Solomon Islands, before simply saying that Australia’s views on security were laid out in the Defence White Paper.


Category: Taiwan

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