The words are minimal but they are very important:
The fieriest clash was over China. Asked whether his description of a potential Chinese military base in Solomon Islands as a “red line” meant Australia would blockade the Pacific nation, Mr Morrison said he would not speculate.
“What is necessary in international environments such as this is to be very clear about what the various partners’ positions are. That is the United States’ position and certainly our position, and I believe it is a broader position of the Pacific Islanders family as well,” he said.
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“People understand that we would work with partners to ensure that the outcome would prevent it.”
If we yoke this to what the recent US delegation said then the import is pretty clear:
One of the most senior US officials in the Pacific has refused to rule out military action against Solomon Islands if it were to allow China to establish a military base there, saying that the security deal between the countries presented “potential regional security implications” for the US and other allies.
Ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was part of a high-level US delegation to the Pacific country last week.
…“We wanted to outline for our friends in the Solomons, what our concerns are,” said Kritenbrink. “Prime minister Sogavare indicated that in the Solomon Islands’ view, the agreement they’ve concluded has solely domestic implications. But we’ve made clear that there are potential regional security implications of the agreement not just for ourselves, but for allies and partners across the region.”
On Tuesday, Kritenbrink reiterated the US’s willingness to act in the region if a military base were established by China.
“Of course, we have respect for the Solomon Islands sovereignty, but we also wanted to let them know that if steps were taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power projection capabilities, or a military installation, then we would have significant concerns, and we would very naturally respond to those concerns,” he said.
When asked what that response could involve, he said: “Look, I’m not going to speculate and I’m not in a position to talk about what the United States may or may not do in such a situation.”
Pressed on whether he would rule out the prospect of the US taking military action against Solomon Islands were a naval base to be established, and, if not, whether he was comfortable with Australian prime minister Scott Morrison’s talk of the base being a “red line” for Australia, he said: “I don’t have a lot to add beyond what I’ve already stated.”
There is no need for a hot ‘war’. All the US needs to do is park the USS Ronald Reagan off Guadalcanal and invite Honaira elites aboard for a friendly rerenegotiation of a few things.
This is the game of ‘gunboat diplomacy’ that Honiara is playing with Australia. Just do it back.
It is pretty certain that Labor would support exactly the same thing given its open commitment to work with the US on the issue.
So, the little debate fired off by yours truly has had this most excellent effect. All concerned now understand what is at stake so there is little chance of any substantive force projection capability developing on the Solomons for the time being. And, if interested parties are stupid enough to test the red line, we have a pretty good idea of where that will lead.
How can that be anything other than good for Pacific security and diplomacy?
Which is why you should ignore this bloke, one Benjamin Herscovitch:
Despite rhetorical sound and fury, both Labor and the Coalition are on shaky ground in their over-egged efforts to make political mileage off Beijing’s security agreement with Honiara.
Yes, the security agreement deserves public scrutiny – not just in Australia but also in Solomon Islands, other Pacific countries, and the broader Indo-Pacific region. Yet the way many Australian politicians and pundits have characterised the new security agreement is wildly speculative.
Rather than the imminent stationing of a People’s Liberation Army aircraft carrier strike group at Honiara, the agreement so far seems to only allow for certain specific forms of security co-operation. Principally, potential Chinese contributions to stabilisation missions at Solomon Islands’ request and PLA navy replenishment with Honiara’s approval.
Herscovitch makes a series of bold claims about the benign nature of the deal. Which is pretty rich given nobody has seen it and what we have seen is very deliberately vague enough to do just about anything.
To wit, this:
China is vowing to build wharves, shipyards and submarine cables in the Solomon Islands as Beijing moves to lock in closer security and economic ties with the nation’s government, raising concerns the developments could be used by the Chinese military.
A draft maritime co-operation agreement obtained by The Australian says the countries will co-operate to establish “deep-sea fishing bases” and develop oil, gas and undersea mining ventures, amid a Chinese push to gain preferential access to the region’s vast fisheries and mineral wealth.
The leaked “Blue Economy” memorandum of understanding is filled with Chinese bureaucratic language vowing “mutual benefit” and “win-win” co-operation to build “a maritime community with a shared future”.
But experts warned the agreement would work in tandem with the countries’ controversial security agreement, promoting “dual-use” infrastructure which could be used by the Chinese military.
A copy of the MOU obtained by The Australian is unsigned but dated “2022”, like the leaked Solomon Islands-China security deal when it first surfaced in March.
Such development can only be thought of as benign if we ensure that it is.