A former Australian envoy to the Solomon Islands has accused the Australian government of losing the trust of South Pacific island nations and introducing greater Chinese influence
Retired career diplomat Trevor Sofield told a security summit on Monday that he found it “inconceivable” that the Solomon Islands government did not trust Australia enough to consult each other when a security pact bilateral agreement with Beijing was considered for the first time.
“This wouldn’t have happened a few years ago,” said Sofield, who served as Australia’s high commissioner to the Solomons from 1982 to 1985.
Australia and its allies, including the United States, fear the pact will result in a Chinese naval presence within 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of Australia’s northeast coast.
Sofield, who was roughed up by security staff when he tried to speak to Morrison at a campaign event last week, said Australia had “lost the way” in the Pacific as China increased its influence in the region.
“We had a vision,” he said. “It was underpinned by the fact that if we could help these governments achieve economic security through trade and aid, they would certainly be able to manage their own affairs.”
“But we’ve lost that vision and we’ve lost that confidence that we’ve developed over time,” Sofield added.
The centre-left Albanese Labor Party has condemned the Sino-Solomon pact as the worst failure of Australian foreign policy in the Pacific since World War II.
Morrison argues that the blame lies with China for its interference in the Pacific.
Morrison boasts that a partnership with the United States and Britain announced in September that will provide Australia with a fleet of submarines powered by American nuclear technology has been a major achievement in bolstering the security of the Australia.
The so-called AUKUS deal has become a political battleground since an Australian newspaper reported on Saturday that the United States had established bipartisan support as a precondition for any deal.