An Australian senator is urging federal labor to avoid walking into an “arms race” with China over the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific.
Liberal frontbencher, Simon Birmingham, is calling the Albanese government to avoid an arms race with Beijing.
The plea from Birmingham follows the Chinese Communist Party’s counter-donation of police equipment and vehicles to the Solomon Islands.
This follows a donation of 13 vehicles and 60 MK18 rifles made by the Australian Federal Police to the Solomon Islands that was formalized in Honiara on November 2.
Speaking to Sky News host Kenny Heatly on Friday, Birmingham said Australia’s commitment to supplying security support to the Solomon Islands has been ongoing since the time of the Howard government.
When asked whether Australia was now in an arms race with Beijing following reports of China’s donations, Birmingham said Australia “certainly shouldn’t be (in an arms race).”
“I trust that’s not the case,” he said.
“We are working cooperatively with the Solomon Islands government and the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force as we have done for a long period of time.
“We have lived up to the terms of being the security partner of choice, which the Solomon Islands Government under Prime Minister Sogavare, continues to state that we are.”
On Friday, the Chinese regime announced that it would donate two water cannon trucks and other vehicles to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF).
The move comes as both Canberra and Beijing compete for influence over the Solomon Islands as concerns grow over China’s growing influence in the South Pacific.
In April, the Solomon Islands signed a security pact with the Chinese Communist Party that would pave the way for China’s troops and weapons to be stationed on the island nation.
However, on Oct. 6, Sogavare assured Australia that it would not “endanger his country” by allowing China to build a naval base in the South Pacific.
Meanwhile, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said Australia was not attempting to outcompete Beijing for the Solomon Island’s friendship.
Marles argues that all Pacific countries are free to have the relations they want, with any country they want.
“We’ve just got to focus on our own relationship with the Solomon Islands and indeed with all the countries of the Pacific,” he told ABC radio on Friday.
“I genuinely do believe that if we are present and if we are engaged with the countries in the Pacific, they’ll want to work with us.”
“We’ve been working with the Solomon Islands police force over a very long period of time, I’m confident that if we do that we will be the natural partner of choice.”
In June, Marles said Beijing’s militarisation in the Asia Pacific was the “largest” and “most ambitious” seen by any country since the end of the second world war.
“So it is critical that China’s neighbors do not see this buildup as a risk to them. Because without that reassurance, it is inevitable that countries will seek to upgrade their own military capabilities in response. Insecurity is what drives an arms race,” Marles said at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
“Australia’s approach will be anchored in a resolve to safeguard our national interests, and our support for regional security and stability based on rules.”
“Australia’s investments in defense capability are a necessary and prudent response to the military buildup we see taking place in the Indo-Pacific.”