Prime Minister Scott Morrison stopped talking to Manasseh Sogavare over concerns the Solomon Islands Prime Minister would become volatile and misrepresent the conversation.
Sogavare this week claimed his country had been threatened “with invasion” by opponents of its security agreement with China and suggested Russia was not the aggressor in Ukraine.
Australia has been critical of the recently signed security pact signed between Beijing and Honiara, fearing it could pave the way for a permanent Chinese military presence in the Pacific island nation and criticising the Chinese government for insisting the text of the agreement be kept secret.
Morrison and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne have been criticised by Labor for not doing enough to stop the deal from being signed.
The prime minister on Thursday was again forced to defend his decision to not pick up the phone to the Solomons leader in the days leading up to the security pact being signed, saying he was “following very carefully the advice I get from our security and intelligence agencies”.
Morrison confirmed his last conversation with Sogavare was “in the last few months” before the security pact was signed.
He said Sogavare “has had a number of views about the relationship with Australia over a long period of time”.
“Our approach has been to be supportive, to answer their call … We have always been there for the people of the Solomon Islands and we always will be.
“That doesn’t mean that prime ministers will always agree. I have a different view to him about the role of Russia invading Ukraine.”
Without commenting on what the advice was from security and intelligence agencies, multiple government sources said there was concern that Morrison risked further inflaming the situation by having another phone conversation with Sogavare.
This was due to Sogavare’s history of being volatile towards Australia and the assessment that no intervention was going to persuade him not to sign the deal with Beijing.
There have also been concerns within the Australian government over Sogavare misrepresenting conversations with government officials after the Solomons leader claimed Australian soldiers and police refused to protect Chinese-built infrastructure during riots that erupted last November. The Australian government has denied the claim.
More than 100 members of the Australian Federal Police and Australian Defence Force were sent to the Solomons to help Sogavare quell the violent uprising.
Michael Shoebridge, director of the defence program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said Morrison was right not to have any further conversations with Sogavare.
“Sogavare is not our friend, and pretending he is is only making us look stupid, and it’s a poor foundation for policy,” Shoebridge said.
“Polite conversations between Sogavare and the Australian prime minister, foreign minister, or even the Queen, would not have changed Sogavare’s mind.”
In an address to his nation’s parliament on Wednesday, Sogavare said the Solomons had been treated “like kindergarten students walking around with Colt .45s in our hands”.
“We deplore the continual demonstration of lack of trust by the concerned parties, and tacit warning of military intervention in Solomon Islands if their national interest is undermined in Solomon Islands,” Sogavare said.
“In other words, we are threatened with invasion.”
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( Information from smh.com.au was used in this report. To Read More, click here )