Australia has lost influence in the Pacific Ocean by not taking action on climate and cutting foreign aid, Anthony Albanese says, amid concerns over China’s proposed security agreement with Solomon Islands.
Australia and New Zealand are concerned that the draft agreement could jeopardize regional stability, as China has the ability to deploy warships in the Pacific Ocean less than 2,000 km off the coast of Australia.
Prime Minister c Solomon IslandsMonaco Sogawar, on Tuesday is due to address the parliament in Haniari on security cooperation with China.
But the leak of the draft agreement prompted reflections on gaps in Australia’s Pacific revitalization.
Australia’s official development assistance (ODA) to the Solomon Islands has fallen by 12.6% from $ 179 million in 2014-15 to $ 156 million in the 2021-2022 budget, according to government figures.
But on Monday, the government defended its record by saying that in addition to basic ODA spending, it has allocated more than $ 320 million to investments in security, stability and health in Solomon Islands since 2018.
The government also said that since the Solomon Islands Regional Assistance Mission (RAMSI) ended in mid-2017, there has been a reduction in ODA costs.
On Monday, Albanese made no commitment to increase foreign aid in the event of an election, saying Thursday’s budget speech was “not an alternative budget”. He said he was looking forward to “proposing an alternative budget if we succeed”.
The Labor leader – whose party remains ahead of the coalition in opinion polls due to take place in May – blamed several factors on Australia’s difficulties in maintaining influence in the Pacific.
“It’s about our level of assistance, but it’s also much more,” Albanese said in Canberra.
“When you go to the Pacific, when you meet with leaders in the Pacific, the first thing they affect with you is not help, it’s climate change.”
The Albanian, who has promised to cut emissions by 43% by 2030 compared to 26% to 28% of the coalition, said Australia would have a strong position in the Pacific as a “good neighbor”.
“As long as Australia sits in a naughty corner, at international conferences such as Glasgow, with the Prime Minister giving an empty speech in an empty room without increasing ambition for 2030, we continue to alienate our friends in the Pacific,” he said. . .
Albanese spoke to reporters after Australian national security officials briefed him on developments in the Solomon Islands and Ukraine.
He said Australia has historically “exceeded our weight, but over the last decade we have lost some paint, as well as because of our refusal to sign up for [the] Kyoto [Protocol] under the Howard government. “
“One of the ways to confront what is happening, and this is strategic competition in our region, is a serious perception of the leaders in our region in terms of climate,” he said. “And we are not doing that now. Weren’t. “
The Albanian said he did not argue with being a major emitter China had a strong climate record, but only that Australia could increase its influence in the region by pursuing a more ambitious policy.
His comments were in line with the argument of Peter Hutton, the former High Commissioner of Australia to Samoa and the Solomon Islands.
Hutan says an article for The Lowe Institute Interpreter that only “concrete and ambitious climate commitments” will “restore and maintain the Pacific Islands’ confidence in Australia as their key partner, friend and ally ”.
“Australia’s refusal to take domestic measures to limit emissions and its resistance to international efforts to strengthen commitments to reduce emissions have reduced the country’s leverage in the region and made it harder to defend its enduring and vital economic and geostrategic interests there. competition is obviously from China, ”Hutan said.
Although the proposed security agreement is yet to pass through the Pacific cabinet, the Solomon Islands government reaffirmed on Friday that it seeks to “expand security and development cooperation with more countries”, calling Australia and China their “two” main partners ”. .
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that the proposed security agreement was of “serious concern”.
In an interview with RNZ Arderna was asked whether it would ever be acceptable for New Zealand to deploy China’s military ships in the Solomon Islands.
“We are considering actions such as the potential militarization of the region, and we see very little reason in terms of Pacific security for such a need and such a presence,” she said.
Ardern said New Zealand had been in contact with Solomon Islands at the leader level “late last year” to express “concern about the direction of movement Solomon Islands has taken in terms of their security arrangements with China”.
“We need to make sure that we respect the sovereignty of our neighbors while working closely with them to make sure that the needs of our region are met and we do not see the need to consider, for example, new military agreements,” she said. said.
The Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrisonsaid he had contacted Ardern last weekend and on Monday he would talk to his counterparts from Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
“The reports we have seen are not a surprise to us and are a reminder of the constant pressures and threats present in our region for our own national security,” Morrison said.
Solomon Islands opposition leader Matthew Vale told an Australian newspaper he briefed Australia’s High Commissioner “back in August last year” on talks with Beijing on closer security measures.
in november Australia has sent more than 100 police and defense forces to the Solomon Islands to help quell unrest, but found itself in competition with China, which is also agreed to send police.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has denied that the government was “throwing the ball” in relations with Pacific countries.
“I think it would be very naive to think that the Australian government is not fully aware of this issue,” Joyce said. “Prime Minister, National Security Committee, they are not fools.”
Referring to China, Joyce said Australia “is not blind to the tactics of other people trying to limit our ability to move and intimidate us.”