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Australia's foreign minister said Sunday that a controversial security deal between the Solomon Islands and China would not spell the end of her country's defence cooperation with the Pacific nation.
Marise Payne told national broadcaster ABC that an existing bilateral security treaty between Australia and the Solomon Islands would continue even if the nation ignored entreaties from Canberra and signed a security pact with China.
She noted it was under this treaty "that the assistance force made up of Pacific family countries -- Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea -- went to the Solomon Islands at the end of last year to support them in dealing with the unrest" sparked by protests against Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
A leaked draft of the Solomon Islands-China deal prompted fears last month in Canberra that it would open the door to a greater Chinese military presence in the Pacific.
Particularly controversial were provisions that would allow Chinese security and naval deployments to the Solomon Islands and others that required both nations to keep the existence of security missions secret.
Sogavare has been adamant since the deal became public that he has "no intention whatsoever... to ask China to build a military base in the Solomon Islands".
Payne said Sunday these were "very important assurances" but noted concern "that there has been a lack of transparency in relation to this agreement".
Last week, in a sign of Australia's mounting anxiety about the deal, Pacific Minister Zed Seselja was dispatched to the Solomons capital Honiara for an unusual mid-election campaign meeting with Sogavare.
He asked the Solomon Islands' leader "to consider not signing the agreement" but the prime minister was not persuaded.
Instead, Sogavare said after the meeting that he will send his foreign minister to other countries in the region to "expound" on the security deal "with a view that a strong and stable Solomon Islands is healthy for the security of the region".