After his home minister said Beijing’s disclosure of a security contract with the adjacent Solomon Islands was timed to influence an election, Australia’s prime minister accused China of “form,” or a record, on foreign policy involvement on Saturday.
With most polls predicting a loss in the May 21 election, Scott Morrison’s conservative coalition has pushed to showcase its national security credentials, such as a firm stance toward China.
“We are well conscious of the Chinese government’s desire to exert influence in this nation,” Morrison told reporters in Tasmania. “In Australia, there is precedent for foreign meddling.”
He was responding to a question regarding evidence for Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews’ radio statement that the timing of China’s recent Solomons agreement was a kind of foreign meddling in Australia’s election.
China has stated that the treaty is not directed at any third party and has encouraged Australia to “respect China’s and the Solomon Islands’ sovereign and independent choices.”
The news of the security pact with the Pacific island triggered fears of a Chinese military presence less than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from Australian beaches, throwing doubt on Morrison’s coalition’s national security efforts.
Morrison’s administration has strengthened its stance after Australia’s opposition Labor Party labeled the arrangement a national security failure by Canberra earlier this week.
“Any idea that the Chinese government does not seek to intervene in Australia, well, we didn’t put that legislation in for no reason,” he said, citing a restriction on foreign political donations and a registry of foreign representatives.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of the Solomon Islands had informed parliament the day before that his country would not participate in any militarization in the Pacific and that it had signed the China accord because a security pact with Australia was insufficient.