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“They have let the Pacific go. Under their watch, they have made it so that Australia is not the partner of choice for the Solomon Islands,” Mr Marles said.
“And by virtue of that, our security is much worse than it would otherwise have been.
“This is a watershed moment in terms of Australia’s national security, in terms of our place in the region and it is a watershed moment which is very negative.
“It definitely raises the increased prospect of Chinese military presence in the Pacific and that makes Australia less safe.”
However, when asked about the prospect of raising foreign aid to improve Australia’s standing in the region, Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers did not commit to any increase, saying it was only “part of the story, but not the whole story”, and that Labor would make further announcements about their Pacific policy later in the campaign.
Mr Marles also faced questioning about his own conduct when he was quizzed about providing a copy of a speech he was about to make in China to the Chinese government.
However, he said he only provided the speech to the administration as a courtesy given he was giving the address on Chinese soil, and said “absolutely” no changes were made, noting he criticised China in the speech.
“I let people know what I was going to say so there were no surprises. But there were no changes whatsoever made to a speech that I made in China, criticising China in public. What government minister has done that?” Mr Marles said.
Speaking yesterday, Mr Morrison said the Solomon Islands is ultimately a sovereign nation entitled to make its own decisions, and that China was placing “vulnerabilities and pressures” on Pacific countries.
“The Chinese government doesn’t play by the same rules as other transparent liberal democracies and that means there are vulnerabilities in our region which we’re very well aware of and have been working hard to ensure we can mitigate,” he said.
“Solomon Islands representatives indicated that the agreement had solely domestic applications, but the US delegation noted there are potential regional security implications of the accord, including for the United States and its allies and partners,” the White House said in a statement.