Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has raised the idea that the Solomon Islands security pact with China, which has become a significant issue in the federal election campaign, was an act of "political interference" by Beijing.
It appears to feed into government attack lines on Federal Labor that leader Anthony Albanese is China's preferred choice at the May 21 election, despite there being very little difference between the major parties on Australia's largest trading partner.
On Brisbane radio 4BC, Minister Andrews raised the timing of the Chinese deal which was announced on April 19 but had been signed several days earlier.
"Beijing is very clearly aware that we're in a federal election campaign here at the moment and now we have a significant focus on what is happening in the Pacific Islands, what China is doing," she said.
"Now, why now? Why in the middle of a federal election campaign is all this coming to light?
"I mean, we talk about political interference and that has many forms so I think we need to be very much aware of what Beijing is doing, what its plans are, what it's trying to achieve in the actions its taking in the Solomons, but not exclusively in the Solomons."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has had to repeatedly defend his government's engagement with the Pacific in light of the pact.
He and his ministers have been trying assure Australians the Solomon Islands won't allow a Chinese naval base to be built on its shores - a move which Mr Morrison has described as a "red line" but won't explain how it would react if that line was crossed.
Labor has described the signing of the pact as the "greatest foreign policy failure since the Second World War," and pledged to grow Australia's influence in the Pacific including by ramping back up Australian broadcasting into the region. A pledge lightly dismissed by the government as an ABC "Q & A" response.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull described maintaining relationships with Pacific nations is a "hose you have to hold", in a pointed attack at Mr Morrison and his government.
Minister Andrews drew a line between the Coalition and Labor over China, and pointed to China being aware of the difference.
"China would be absolutely aware of the current members of the ministry, what their behaviour has been in the past, they would be looking at what opposition shadow ministers have said in the past," she said.
"They would be very aware of where their alignment has been so yes, they would be watching very closely what is happening here, and again, I think some of the actions and the timing of that is a cause for concern."
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