Australia defends handling of China-Solomons deal; makes a tax pledge before the polls

SYDNEY, April 24 (Reuters) – Australia’s government on Sunday defended its response to China’s courtship of the nearby Solomon Islands, which has culminated in a security pact, ahead of next month’s general election in which it hoped to highlight its credentials. of national security.

Defense Minister Peter Dutton in a television interview attributed China’s success to an uneven playing field involving tactics with which no Australian government could compete.

The pact, announced earlier this month, is seen as a major foray for China into the resource-rich Pacific, where the United States has long been the dominant influence alongside allies Australia and New Zealand.

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China has said the pact will help the Solomon Islands maintain social order and deal with natural disasters and humanitarian aid. She said it poses no risk to the United States, while the Solomon Islands said it will not undermine regional peace. read more

Still, the US has said it would respond accordingly to any Chinese military presence in the region, while critics of Prime Minister Scott Morrison have called the deal Australia’s biggest diplomatic failure in the Pacific since World War II. . read more

Dutton, in an interview with Sky News, said the pact follows a pattern of China’s involvement around the world.

“If you look at what’s happened in Africa, corrupt payments are going on — we could never compete with that kind of playbook,” Dutton said, without providing evidence.

He said he could not comment on whether corrupt payments had been made in the Solomons case.

“China is incredibly aggressive – the acts of foreign interference, the willingness to pay bribes to get results and beat other countries in deals – that is the reality of modern China.”

Speaking to reporters later that day, Morrison said China’s construction of a military base in the Solomon Islands would be a “red line” for Australia.

“Working together with our partners in New Zealand and of course the United States, I share the same red line that the United States has when it comes to these issues,” the prime minister was quoted as saying by ABC News.

“We will not have Chinese military naval bases in our region around the corner.”

The Chinese and Solomon Islands embassies in Canberra did not respond to requests for comment outside business hours.

Morrison sought to deflect criticism by shifting the debate to his economic policy, promising not to introduce any taxes if re-elected and to limit government tax revenue to 23.9% of gross domestic product.

The policy also involves giving workers 100 billion Australian dollars ($72.4 billion) in tax relief over the next four years.

Australians head to the polls on May 21.

($1 = 1.3816 Australian dollars)

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Information from Praveen Menon; Edited by Christopher Cushing

Our standards: the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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