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Australia apparently thinks Russia should tolerate NATO expansion in Ukraine, since they've 1) condemned the invasion and 2) imposed sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine.

On the other hand, Australia has also said that the Solomon Islands' deal with China to build a base is a "red line" and they should be prepared to go to war to "keep China off Australia's doorstep".

What factors (other than self-interest) explain this difference in approach?

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    Ref. to the first paragraph, is it not clear how tolerating NATO expansion is linked to condemning the invasion. It seems to suggest that if a country is not happy with the aspirations of another country, invasion is the only way to deal with it.
    – Alexei
    Apr 26 at 13:59
  • @Alexei I can't find any statements by Australia that they oppose NATO expansion in Ukraine but think Russia should not have invaded anyway. Do you know of any?
    – Allure
    Apr 26 at 14:26
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    Russia is free to object to Ukraine wanting to join NATO/EU as much as it wants and that isn't a problem. The issue is that the response was the invasion of Ukraine and killing of civilians that followed.
    – Joe W
    Apr 26 at 14:39
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    @JoeW this question isn't about Russia and Ukraine. The focus is on Australia.
    – Allure
    Apr 26 at 14:40
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    @alamar A red line can mean many different things but it doesn't mean that they are going to use military force or other violence if it is crossed. There are other tools they can use besides those. At this point we have talk and we should not be treating it the same as violence and military force.
    – Joe W
    Apr 28 at 12:11

2 Answers 2

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China has already signed a defense pact of sorts with the Solomon Islands. One draft had some interesting provisions like:

The draft agreement says China, with Honiara’s consent, can send police and armed forces to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects” and also carry out ship visits and replenish supplies. Solomon Islands can also request Chinese police or soldiers to maintain order.

The final text of the security agreement between the Solomon Islands and China is secret, which is pretty unusual in this day and age.

So one could argue they have already joined a China-led alliance, yet this didn't lead to an invasion by the "West", so analogy with Ukraine joining NATO is not quite par.

Of course, the provision to deploy Chinese troops for internal security in the Islands (if it still exists in the final treaty) has some parallel with the Australia-led RAMSI deployment, but this time from much more authoritarian state.

The Solomon Islands, while technically a democracy, have been rocked by violence between ethnic groups, just last fall; emergency powers were enacted, etc. So there's quite the possibility that a slide into authoritarianism could be backed by foreign troops. There's also a Chinese minority on the Islands, which has been the target of rioters. So what the Solomons Islands present government possibly agreed to is more like Russia obtaining an agreement to send troop to police Ukraine.

Furthermore, in 2019 a Chinese state-owned company tried to secure a 75-year lease for Tulagi island (which was part of the WWII Guadalcanal campaign, due its deep harbor). The effort was apparently blocked by Solomon Islands' legal system. I'm not aware of NATO countries trying to secure pieces of Ukraine that way "ahead of schedule". So the goals of China seem rather transparent in that region.

Finally, if you think that NATO=USA, then you could argue that it has no business being in Europe (pretending WW2 never happened the way it did, i.e. including the Normandy landings), but if you admit that NATO is also Poland or Romania these days, then they have a border with Ukraine too, just like Russia has. Of course, Russia claims Ukraine is part of the "Russian world", but geographically speaking both NATO and Russia border Ukraine nowadays. Whereas in the case of China vs Australia and the Solomon islands the map speaks for itself, and explains why the islands were critical in WW2 as they were on the supply routes from the US to Australia.

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Clearly, China wants to project naval power far away (thousands of kilometers) from its shores "just in case" (also in the Atlantic). This is "neither here nor there" relative to what the US wants with bases elsewhere, e.g. in the Gulf, but it's not really comparable with the proximity situation that Ukraine has relative to European NATO countries.

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First, as mentioned in the comments, it's important to note that the question conflates a military aggression in Ukraine and the diplomatic expression of a disagreement. These are obviously not on the same level: there would be a real contradiction only if Australia invaded the Solomon Islands as a response to what they consider a threat, similarly to what Russia did, but that's very unlikely.

But there are also arguments which could answer the apparent different behaviour:

  • Prior to the Ukraine war, the presence of NATO troops in Eastern Europe was mostly symbolic and intended as a deterrent. It involved only a few thousands troops spread across several countries. By comparison, the US has tens of thousands troop stationed in Western Europe. The strategy was for these troops to serve as tripwire, since they would have been quickly outnumbered should Russia attack. This means that before Putin decided to invade Ukraine, NATO troops in Eastern Europe were not a credible threat to Russia. Of course, from the point of view of keeping NATO away, the invasion caused the opposite effect: much more NATO troops are sent to Eastern Europe and more countries want to join NATO. It is also becoming clearer recently that Russia intends to permanently colonize parts of Ukraine, making the 'protecting Russia against the threat of NATO' argument less credible.
  • On the contrary, given China's increased military power and increasingly aggressive attitude in the South China Sea and in the East China Sea, it's not totally obvious that China's intentions are purely defensive in the long term. It's also clear that China isn't particularly interested in democracy and the right to self-determination, as one can see in Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong. So it's not very surprising that, in Australia's point of view, the extension of China's military in the South Pacific is perceived as a threat to the stability of the region.

To summarize: the threat that NATO represented to Russia was exaggerated, most likely a pretext given to the public opinion (along the original "denazification", "demilitarization" and "peacekeeping mission" arguments) for the invasion. By contrast, China's ambitions in the South Pacific are unclear and there are concerns that China would leverage its military power to assert its dominance.

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