Australia may train regional armies against China
Opposition leaders propose a new ‘defense school’ while warnings persist of a threat from China
Australia’s Labor Party has put forward a plan to hike security spending in the Pacific and devote resources to training regional allies, with an opposition spokesperson blasting the current government for failing to address the alleged growing threat posed by China.
The center-left party unveiled an idea on Tuesday to “build a stronger Pacific region,” saying that it would boost engagement with local partners should Labor win elections set for May 21, including with a new “Australia-Pacific Defense School” for military training.
While it did not elaborate on exactly what role the school would have, the party also called for a twofold increase in funding for the Pacific Maritime Security Program – saying it would help to “protect Pacific countries’ economic exclusive zones” – as well as to boost “Australian public media content to audiences in our region.”
Labor's plan to secure our region ➡️ pic.twitter.com/qafvlCBWII
— Senator Penny Wong (@SenatorWong) April 26, 2022
Speaking to reporters, Labor’s foreign affairs spokesperson Penny Wong criticized Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s supposed weakness toward Beijing, warning that China could increase its military presence in the Pacific after signing a security pact with the Solomon Islands last week.
“Let’s be clear: the prospect of a Chinese base less than 2,000 kilometers from Australia’s coastline is dramatically detrimental to Australia’s security interests,” she said. “That has occurred on Mr. Morrison’s watch, and the response appears to be more chest beating.”
Wong went on to describe the China-Solomons security pact as the “worst failure of Australian foreign policy in the Pacific since the end of World War II.”
Though officials in Canberra and Washington have warned that the deal with the islands could mean a new Chinese military base in the region, Beijing has rebuffed these suggestions as “completely fake news made up by a few people with ulterior motives.” The Chinese foreign ministry also recalled that the Solomon Islands is an “independent sovereign country, not the ‘backyard’ of the United States and Australia” following vocal objections from both countries over the new arrangement.
While the Labor Party has hit Morrison’s “chaotic government” with a long list of complaints ahead of the upcoming election – including cuts to certain military programs – the PM rejected its criticisms as “farcical.”
“What they’re effectively saying is they’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Morrison said on Tuesday, arguing that under his administration, Australia has provided the Pacific with some $1.3 billion per year in assistance.
Australia is the only country to maintain diplomatic missions in all member states of the 13-nation Pacific Islands Forum, which includes the Solomons, and has provided each with naval patrol boats over the years, according to the Associated Press.