Minister for the Pacific Zed Seselja has been forced to pause campaigning for re-election in his tight ACT Senate race while undertaking an urgent mission to Honiara on the back of fears that China is securing military basing off Australia's coast.
Senator Seselja will travel to the Solomon Islands for two days this week to "further strengthen Australia's relationship" with the Pacific nation.
"My discussions will include the proposed Solomon Islands-China security agreement," the senator confirmed.
A draft security agreement between China and Solomon Islands was revealed this month to have been "initialled" by the two nations, sparking concerns about implications for regional stability if China establishes the ability to resupply and station troops in close proximity to Australia.
The Solomon Islands government says the deal would be "cleaned up" and signed soon.
The Australian government has said it respects the right of the island nation to make sovereign decisions about its national security.
However, concerns have come from the highest levels of the Australian and United States governments.
Caroline Kennedy, the nominee for US ambassador to Australia, was asked in her Senate confirmation hearing about China's plans to secure a military presence on the islands. Ms Kennedy said the reopening of the US embassy in the Solomon Islands "can't come soon enough".
Senator Seselja said the visit comes after significant engagement from his colleagues, including Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
"We look forward to ongoing engagement with Solomon Islands, and with our Pacific family members, on these very important issues. Our view remains that the Pacific family will continue to meet the security needs of our region," he said.
"Australia will always support our Pacific family, reflected in our 'Pacific step up'. This includes our enhanced cooperation on COVID-19 resilience and economic recovery, health, infrastructure, climate resilience, security and other shared challenges."
Senator Seselja is currently the favourite to pick up the second Senate seat for the ACT, according to polling commissioned by the Climate 200 activist group. New independent candidates, however, have made him securing the position a greater fight than he has faced in previous elections.
I'm the federal politics bureau chief for the Canberra Times, via a career that's taken me from rural Victoria to Washington DC. Telling the stories of my local LGBTI community brought me to journalism, where I've covered seven federal budgets, four national elections, Defence, public service and international governance.
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