Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern have aired their concerns about China’s interest in the Solomon Islands.
During a phone call on Tuesday morning, the pair discussed Beijing’s push for a security agreement with the Pacific nation.
A draft agreement between Solomon Islands and China, which could provide Beijing with a military presence in the nation, was leaked online last week.
According to a readout of the discussion, Mr Morrison and Ms Arden shared their concerns about any actions that would undermine the security and stability of the Pacific region.
It comes after Mr Morrison denied he had dropped the ball on Australia’s engagement with the Pacific.
“Absolutely not. We’ve been aware of the risks right across the Pacific,” he told reporters in Sydney on Monday.
“The reports that we’ve seen are not a surprise to us, and are a reminder of the constant pressure and threats that present in our region to our own national security.”
But New Zealand’s Defence Minister Peeni Henare, who was in Australia for meetings when the reports emerged, said he and counterpart Peter Dutton were caught off guard.
“We were both surprised, because the intelligence we were getting didn’t exactly match that,” he said.
“We knew that there were some challenges there, with respect to China, but the leaked draft agreement … it did catch me as a surprise, and even Minister Dutton.”
New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has flown to Fiji to discuss the proposed deal with Pacific leaders.
Asked if Marise Payne should do the same, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese remained coy.
“Well, that‘s a matter for the government,” he told the ABC.
“But what they should be doing, I’ll say this, whether they’re doing it physically or virtually, is engaging in full diplomatic efforts with all of our neighbours in the Pacific.”
Solomon Islands Opposition Leader Matthew Wale said on Monday he had previously issued Australia a warning about China to no avail.
“I have intimated as much to the Australian High Commissioner and officials that this was in the offing, even as far back as last year — all the indications were there and the Australian government did nothing about it — so I’m extremely disappointed in the Australian government,” he told the ABC.