Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Saturday doubled down on claims by his government that China is trying to influence Australia’s upcoming elections.
“We are very aware of the influence the Chinese government seeks to have in this country,” Morrison told reporters in Tasmania, according to local broadcaster SBS News.
His remarks came after Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews warned of “political interference” in the May 21 elections, linking it to a recent security deal between China and Solomon Islands.
In a radio show this week, Andrews questioned the timing of the deal, which first came to light last month and has since been confirmed by both countries, and has drawn vehement opposition from the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
“Why now, why right in the middle of a federal election campaign is all of this coming to light?” she said.
“I mean we talk about political interference and that has many forms. So, I think we need to be aware of what Beijing is doing and what it is trying to achieve.”
Australia’s ruling Liberal-National Coalition is aiming for a fourth consecutive term in power, but faces what polls suggest will be a particularly strong challenge from the Labor Party.
Labor decried the China-Solomon Islands pact as a “national security failure” for Morrison’s government, and has been using it as a major issue in its election campaign.
Asked directly if he believed the security deal was a Chinese attempt to influence the election, Morrison said there is a reason Australia has laws designed to thwart foreign interference.
“We put it in there to ensure that Australians’ security could be safeguarded from foreign influence in our own country,” he said, referring to amendments his government introduced in the country’s national security law in 2018.
The amendments criminalize “covert and deceptive activities of foreign actors that intend to interfere with Australia’s institutions of democracy, or support the intelligence activities of a foreign government.”
The Solomon Islands and China have repeatedly dismissed concerns over their bilateral pact, with Beijing insisting that it “does not target any third country.”
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has termed the objections “insulting” and stressed that his government will keep honoring its security arrangements with Australia and other regional partners.
Speaking in parliament on Friday, he pointed out that the Solomon Islands was left completely out of the loop when the US, UK and Australia signed the AUKUS security pact last year.
“One would expect that as a member of the Pacific family, Solomon Islands and members of the Pacific should have been consulted to ensure this AUKUS treaty is transparent, since it will affect the Pacific family by allowing nuclear submarines in Pacific waters,” he said.
“I learnt of the AUKUS treaty in the media … We did not become theatrical or hysterical about the implications this would have for us. We respected Australia’s decision,” he added.Güncelleme Tarihi: 05 Mayıs 2022, 18:04