China is “very likely” to put troops in the Solomon Islands after signing a contentious security deal with the Pacific nation, Australia’s home affairs minister said Wednesday.
The deal was announced by Beijing last Tuesday, just weeks after a draft version leaked on social media and sparked concern it could open the door to a Chinese military presence in the South Pacific.
Asked how realistic it was that China would request to put troops in the Solomon Islands within the next year, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told 4BC radio it was “very likely”.
“It is likely that will be the path that China will be taking in the Pacific region,” she said.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has repeatedly said there will be no Chinese military base built in his country under the security deal but has not made public the final version of the pact.
The leaked draft contained provisions allowing for Chinese security and naval deployments to the Solomon Islands, including language stating the “forces of China” would be empowered to protect “the safety of Chinese personnel” and “major projects”.
Andrews also questioned the timing of Beijing’s announcing the deal in the run-up to the May 21 Australian federal election, which has been upended by debate about foreign policy and Pacific diplomacy.
“Beijing is clearly very aware that we are in a federal election campaign here at the moment,” she said.
“We talk about political interference and that has many forms.”