China-Solomon Islands Pact Shakes Up Australian Election Campaign

Foreign policy has taken the center stage in the Australian elections for the first time in decades as China’s security pact with the Solomon Islands shakes up Australia’s domestic politics.

Australian Prime Minister Morrison has followed a hawkish stance so far on China but his conservative Liberal Party is accused by the opposition Labor Party of incompetent foreign policy that makes Australia less secure.

Developments outside the country and a public perception of threat from another country have not become major issues in Austalian elections since the Cold War. Especially for younger voters, there is no such concept in memory.

Morrison’s Liberals, behind in the polls, have shown the party’s stance against China as a reason of support for the voters, and have claimed without evidence that Beijing is supporting the Labor Party.

On the other hand, Labor says Liberal Party has been incompetent on Pacific diplomacy and criticized the government over the sale of the northern port of Darwin to a Chinese company on a 99 year lease.

Morrison said a possible Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands would be a red line for his country.

Kicking off its campaign trail with a focus on living costs and jobs, Labor has now turned its attention to foreign policy and unveiled a plan on Tuesday to boost diplomacy, soft power, climate change and financial aid in the Pacific, cementing the Solomons pact as an election focus.

Labor Party says Australians are aware that this is a time of risk.

Morrison said the government has done many of the things the Labor Party proposed. He emphaseized QUAD and AUKUS security pacts that counter Chinese influence in the region. Morrison added that Labor’s attacks on the government were benefitting China.

Labor’s promise to boost diplomacy in the region is seen as a substantial policy difference from the Liberals.

Latests polls this week show Labor keeping a 53-47 lead on a two party preferred basis against the conservative Liberal-National coalition.

Currently, it seems Morrison’s efforts to put China issue on the campaign frontline have backfired.

Both Liberal and Labor governments in the past had an all or nothing approach to their Pacific Islands engagement.

It is still unclear whether Australian voters care as much about a resurgent China as the politicians on the campaign, but national security has rarely been a big factor in Australian voter decision.

Polls this year have shown the economy, climate change, housing affordability and health are bigger issues for voters.

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