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Huge step in China-Solomons deal

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is expected to make a trip to the Solomon Islands in the coming weeks.

The move is likely to cause uneasiness within the Australian government, particularly if the visit takes place ahead of the election.

It is not known exactly when Mr Wang intends to travel to the Solomons, but preparations are being made in Honiara for his arrival, the ABC reported on Tuesday.

One of several possibilities is the visit will be used to sign a controversial security agreement between the countries that has been broadly opposed by Australia on security grounds.

For much of the election campaign Labor has blamed the government for allowing China to deepen defence ties with one of Australia’s closest Pacific neighbours.

Appearing on Sky News as the development was revealed, Defence Minister Peter Dutton called Mr Wang’s visit “provocative” particularly in light of the Australian election campaign.

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Mr Dutton said many countries were struggling to respond to China’s increasing ambition and aggression and Australia needed to be “eyes wide open”.

“It’s China that has changed. It’s not, in our region, Australia or New Zealand that has changed – it’s China – and the approach is aggressive and we need to be realistic about that,” Mr Dutton said.

He added the government had taken advice from ASIO, the Department for Defence and the Defence Force in dealing with developments in the Solomon Islands.

PRIME MINISTER
Camera IconDefence Minister Peter Dutton said the visit did not come as a surprise but was “provocative” especially in the midst of an election campaign. NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

Mr Dutton said there were “good reasons, not all of which we can speak about publicly,” for why the government had taken the approach it has.

“We need to balance it delicately and in the end the Solomon Islands is a sovereign nation,” he said.

 Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne have had limited diplomatic interactions with their counterparts in the Solomon Islands since the deal with China was revealed.

“New Zealand has done that as well,” Mr Dutton said.

“Labor is critical of Scott Morrison but not critical of the New Zealand Labor Prime Minister who hasn’t spoken with, I don’t think, the Solomon Islands Prime Minister.”

“The Foreign Affairs Minister from New Zealand hasn’t gone to the Solomon Islands – and there are good reasons.”

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