A former Australian envoy to the Solomon Islands has accused Australia’s government of losing the trust of South Pacific island countries and of ushering in greater Chinese influence.
Retired career diplomat Trevor Sofield told a security summit yesterday that he found it “inconceivable” that the Solomon Islands government did not trust Australia enough to consult with it when a bilateral security pact with Beijing was first considered.
“That would not have happened a few years ago,” said Sofield, who was Australian high commissioner to the Solomon Islands from 1982 to 1985.
The pact, which was concluded last month, has been a major issue ahead of Australian elections on Saturday.
Australia and its allies, including the US, fear that the pact could result in a Chinese naval presence less than 2,000km from the northeast Australian coast.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that he is better able than opposition leader Anthony Albanese to take on the security threats posed by China and to strengthen relations with Washington, Australia’s most important defense partner.
Sofield, who was blocked by security staff when he attempted to speak to Morrison at a campaign event last week, said that Australia had “lost its way” in the Pacific as China scaled up its influence in the region.
“We had a vision,” he said. “It was underpinned by the fact that if we could assist these governments reach economic security through trade and aid then they would certainly be able to manage their own affairs.”
“We’ve lost that vision and we’ve lost that trust that we developed over time,” Sofield added.
Albanese’s center-left Labor Party said that China’s pact with the Solomon Islands was Australia’s worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific since World War II.
Morrison said the blame lies with China for interfering in the Pacific.
Morrison said that a partnership with the US and the UK, announced in September last year, which is to supply Australia with a fleet of submarines powered by US nuclear technology, was a major achievement to boost Australia’s security.
The so-called AUKUS agreement has become a political battleground since an Australian newspaper reported on Saturday that the US had set bipartisan support as a prerequisite for any agreement going ahead.
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