Anthony Albanese has ruled out China building a military base on the Solomon Islands after meeting Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare as tensions rise in the region.
The pair embraced warmly on Wednesday as they met at the Pacific Islands Forum, despite the Solomons signing a security treaty with China’s President Xi Jinping.
Experts fear a looming flashpoint between the Australian and Chinese military could spark a ‘serious incident’ after escalating confrontations over territorial claims.
But after talks, the Australian prime minister insisted that he was ‘very confident’ China would not develop a military presence in the Solomon Islands.
Anthony Albanese has ruled out China building a military base on the Solomon Islands after meeting Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare as tensions rise in the region
‘No, I’m very confident that won’t happen,’ Mr Albanese told the Today show on Thursday.
‘I had a very constructive meeting with Prime Minister Sogavare yesterday. I sat with him at dinner last night.
‘One of the things we need to do is build personal relations between Australia and our friends in the Pacific to make sure that our interests, but also their interests, are protected.’
He dismissed suggestions he asked Mr Sogavare to rip up the treaty, and added: ‘They are a sovereign nation. We need to respect that.
‘But what we need to do as well is make clear what Australia’s interests are.
‘And obviously the interests of Australia would not be served by having a military base so close to where Australia is and so close to where Queensland is as well.’
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he was ‘very confident’ China would not have a military base in the Solomon Islands after talks with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare
The warnings about rising tensions comes after the Australian Navy frigate HMAS Parramatta was stalked by Chinese aircraft, nuclear submarines and warships.
And on Wednesday, a US warship deliberately sailed within 12 miles of Chinese-claimed territory in the South China Sea in a direct challenge to Beijing.
It follows earlier clashes where Australian military aircraft were threatened by Chinese fighter jets using potentially dangerous flares and chaff, and another targeted by high-power military-grade Chinese lasers.
Now defence expert Professor Don Rothwell has warned: ‘The risk of miscalculation is one that is very live.’
Experts fear a looming flashpoint between Australian and Chinese military could spark a ‘serious incident’ after escalating confrontations over President Xi Jinping’s territorial claims
The warning comes after Australian Navy frigate HMAS Parramatta was stalked by Chinese aircraft, nuclear submarines and warships
The movements of HMAS Parramatta were shadowed by the Chinese military as it sailed between Australia, Vietnam, South Korea and Japan last month.
In the East China Sea, tensions soared as the Australian ship was warned it was entering ‘Chinese territorial waters’ despite still being in international waters.
Now it’s also been revealed a US warship sailed within 12 miles of Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on Wednesday to challenge China’s claim over the region.
The freedom-of-navigation operation, 500km offshore from Vietnam, was a deliberate provocation to undermine Beijing’s rights to the territory.
The incident passed off without incident – but defence experts fear it could be just a matter of time before the flashpoints escalate to a major confrontation.
Defence experts fear it could be just a matter of time before the flashpoints escalate to a major confrontation
They are concerned that Australia is challenging Beijing in a similar way to the US, but without the same back-up resources that the US military can call on.
‘It’s becoming increasingly difficult – Australia is to a degree isolated,’ Prof Rothwell of Australian National University told the ABC.
‘It is clear there is a pattern associated with Australia’s activities now [that is] very much aligned with the way in which the United States conducts similar activities.
‘It needs to be accepted that Australia is often sailing through those waters on their own without a lot of back-up, in the way that the US Navy would often have.’
The fears were echoed by former defence personnel minister Darren Chester.
‘What concerns me is there’s more likely to be some incident at a future point resulting from a level of misadventure or miscalculation or mistake being made than an actual act of aggression,’ the Nationals MP said.
‘We need to be very careful and need to make sure we are working closely with our allies. I think it is really important that we try and de-escalate these situations wherever possible.
‘At the same time, we have every right to be there. The Australian navy is incredibly professional, incredibly well-trained and incredibly capable and they are just doing their job.’
In May, a Chinese jet fighter released aluminium foil chaff dangerously close to an RAAF Poseidon surveillance plane’s jet engines, prompting a diplomatic incident
In May, a Chinese jet fighter released aluminium foil chaff dangerously close to an RAAF Poseidon surveillance plane’s jet engines, prompting a diplomatic incident.
And another Australian Poseidon surveillance aircraft was targeted by high-powered military lasers from a Chinese ship off the north coast of Australia in February.
During the federal election campaign, the ADF was also tracking a Chinese naval ship off the west coast of Australia, apparently monitoring military signal traffic.
On Sunday, four USAF B-2A stealth bombers landed in Queensland in a high-profile show of strength and support for Australia.
On Sunday, four USAF B-2A stealth bombers landed in Queensland in a high-profile show of strength and support for Australia
The ‘flying wing’-style aircraft flew 14,000km from their US base in Missouri on a ‘training and strategic deterrence mission in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific’.
Squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel Kousgaard added: ‘This deployment of the B-2 to Australia demonstrates and enhances the readiness and lethality of our long-range penetrating strike force.’