China 'likely' to put troops in Solomons: Australia minister
After discussing a security agreement with the island nation, China could send soldiers to the Solomon Islands.
Following the security agreement with the Pacific nation, China is "highly likely" to station soldiers in the Solomon Islands, Australia's Home Affairs Minister warned Wednesday.
Beijing revealed the agreement last Tuesday, weeks after a draft version was leaked on social media, raising Western concerns that it could pave the way for a Chinese military presence in the South Pacific.
When asked if China's request to station troops in the Solomon Islands within the next year was realistic, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told 4BC radio that it was "quite likely".
"That will likely be the path that China will be taking in the Pacific region," she continued.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has stated repeatedly that no Chinese military facility will be established in his country as part of the security agreement, but he has not made the full version of the agreement public.
Read more: China refutes remarks on military bases on Solomon Islands
The leaked document included clauses authorizing Chinese security and naval deployments to the Solomon Islands, as well as language declaring that "Chinese forces" would be empowered to defend "the safety of Chinese employees" and "important projects".
Andrews questioned Beijing's disclosure of the agreement in the run-up to the Australian federal election on May 21, which has been dominated by debates about foreign policy and Pacific diplomacy.
Read more: Morrison: Chinese military base on Solomon Islands 'red line'
"Beijing is very aware that we are in a federal election campaign here at the moment," she said. "We talk about political interference and that has many forms."
The announcement of the security agreement by Beijing also came just days before a highly publicized visit by US officials to the Solomon Islands.