Scott Morrison insists Australia remains Solomon Islands' chief defence partner, despite admitting he has not spoken to counterpart Manasseh Sogavare since he struck a controversial deal with Beijing.
But Australian Strategic Policy Institute expert Michael Shoebridge has urged the government to accept Mr Sogavare is "not Australia's friend", and the deal has "nothing at all" to do with Australian efforts.
Speaking in western Sydney on Thursday, the Prime Minister urged Australia to remain "calm and composed", after Mr Sogavare launched an astonishing broadside at his Pacific neighbour.
Experts believe a security pact signed by Honiara and Beijing could pave the way for a Chinese naval presence on Australia's doorstep, an outcome Mr Morrison has described as a "red line" for Australia while refusing to explain how his government would enforce it.
Mr Morrison repeated Solomon Islands had signed onto a "secret arrangement" with Beijing, but denied his rhetoric had exacerbated tensions.
"We need to be calm and composed when we deal with these issues that arise," he said.
Mr Morrison has repeatedly claimed Australia remained Honiara's go-to on national security, despite being publicly criticised by Mr Sogavare.
But after conceding he had not spoken to his counterpart since before the pact was signed, the Prime Minister did not explain why he maintained that view.
"[Those] are his words, and that is the stance of the Solomon Islands government," Mr Morrison said.
He claimed the relationship with the Pacific nation and French President Emmanuel Macron, another key ally in the Indo-Pacific, could be repaired.
"I'm looking forward, should I have that opportunity, to be sitting down with all the Pacific leaders so we can talk to each other as a family about the risk this presents, not just in Solomon Islands, but right across the Pacific," he said.
"We've handled these issues as a family, as an equal, as an equal with all the other countries in the region."
But Mr Shoebridge warned "superficial" public discussion in Australia was "entirely missing the point", saying the Solomons leader was prioritising his own political survival over regional stability.
Labor has attacked the government for belatedly sending junior minister Zed Seselja to Honiara, while Foreign Minister Marise Payne remained in Australia.
But Mr Shoebridge said Mr Sogavare "wants to say he's been bullied by other countries", and was acutely aware the deal was not in the interests of his Pacific neighbours.
"Telling him that while looking him soulfully in his eye - whether it's Zed Seselja, Marise Payne, Anthony Albanese, Penny Wong, or Scott Morrison - would not change his mind," Mr Shoebridge said.
"It has nothing at all to do with how many times Australian ministers have smiled at him and shaken his hand."
Mr Shoebridge said Mr Sogavare had shown a long-term hostility to Australian involvement in Solomon Islands, only begrudgingly accepting military support during unrest when he had no other choice.
But he now calculated Chinese money, and Chinese security agents who had already shown a brutal repressive streak, would protect his leadership, Mr Shoebridge said.
"It's not the Solomon Islands relationship that's relevant here, it's the relationship with Sogavare," he said.
"We have to recognise that Sogavare is not Australia's friend, and more engagement on the pretence that he is our friend would fail."
"The fact that the Prime Minister hasn't picked up the phone to Prime Minister Sogavare says an enormous amount. [It] says an enormous amount about what is needed in terms of that relationship," he said.
In a fiery address to Solomon Islands' parliament, Mr Sogavare lashed critics of the deal as "racists and bigots".
He took issue with Mr Morrison's recent comments referring to the nearby archipelago as being a part of Australia's "backyard".
"[A backyard] is where rubbish is collected and burnt. It is an area which supports the daily wellbeing of residents of the house," Mr Sogavare told Parliament in Honiara on Tuesday.
The Solomons leader also implied western powers had "agents working on the ground". "In other words, we are threatened with invasion, and that's serious," he said.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton claimed that, apart from "the last 24 hours or so", Mr Sogavare had not voiced "a word of criticism" of Australia even as he edged towards signing the pact.
But Mr Sogavare was critical of Mr Morrison before this week, last month chiding Australia for joining the AUKUS security pact without consulting its "Pacific family".
The Solomon Islands Prime Minister also implied Australia's fears over the China pact had been "hysterical" and "theatrical".
He claimed Australian forces sent to Honiara had failed to quell unrest late last year, saying Solomon Islands had been left with "no option" but to tighten security ties with Beijing.
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