Spy boss denies ‘intelligence failure’ before Solomon Islands signed…
One of Australia’s top national security figures denies there was a failure by intelligence agencies to stop a military pact being signed between Solomon Islands and China.
- Andrew Shearer says the strategy behind the security pact has been unfolding for a number of years
- He has insisted China’s motives behind the deal are not helpful for the region
- China has again hit out at the Australian governments criticisms of its actions
The head of the Office of National Intelligence (ONI) Andrew Shearer also warned that Chinese police officers who have already arrived in the Pacific nation could incite further violence and instability.
In early April Mr Shearer joined his counterpart from Australia’s overseas spy agency ASIS in an unsuccessful last-ditch mission to Honiara to urge Solomon Islands to scrap its deal with Beijing.
Three weeks on from his talks with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, the ONI boss has been questioned about whether Australian intelligence agencies had failed to stop China’s move.
“It wasn’t an intelligence failure, this strategy has been unfolding for a number of years,” Mr Shearer declared while appearing at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi.
“I think for those of us watching closely there were signs of this well over a decade ago and we’ve seen this building, this building [Chinese] presence across the Indo-Pacific.”
After last November’s civil unrest in the Solomon capital, Australia quickly dispatched dozens of defence force personnel and federal police to help restore law and order.
They were soon followed by Chinese anti-riot police trainers, but Mr Shearer fears their presence could eventually lead to a confrontation in Honiara.
“Unity of command is always desirable in any security operation, and confusion around unity of command is an issue,” he warned.
“In such a fragile, volatile country, Chinese policing techniques and tactics that we’ve seen deployed so ruthlessly in Hong Kong for example are completely inconsistent with the Pacific way of resolving issues and could incite further instability and violence.”
While conceding Australia was “not a perfect partner” for Pacific nations, Mr Shearer insisted China’s motives were particularly unhelpful for the region.
“We’ve made a big investment. I think our motives are pure and have been pure for decades. But we accept these countries making their own choices. What we can’t accept is an outside power influencing the choices of these countries.”
Mr Shearer was joined at the Raisina Dialogue by his one-time boss, and former prime minister, Tony Abbott, who also spoke on a panel discussion about China.
Mr Abbott told the event that countries needed to deal with a “strong” and “dangerous” China with “great care” but argued any attempted invasion of Taiwan had to be met with force.
“When it comes to any attempt to seize a flourishing democracy by force, I think that absolutely requires a confrontation,” Mr Abbott said.
Late on Tuesday China again hit out at the Australian government’s increasingly strident criticisms of its actions.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin took aim at recent comments from Defence Minister Peter Dutton, who has suggested Beijing paid bribes to politicians in Solomon Islands
“An individual Australian politician got used to make crazy comments to smear China and instigate war for their own political interest,” he said in a briefing in Beijing.
“Their behaviours are despicable, and the Chinese people and international community see that clearly.”