Businessman Ian Gowrie-Smith, who is the owner of the islands named the Conflict Islands near Australia, said that it could be sold to China as he had received no response from the Australian government.
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Without purchasing the Conflict Islands, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has told local media that Australia is doing more than enough to compete with China.
The islands, which the present owner has threatened to sell to Beijing, are made up of 21 coral atolls and are situated between Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, off the eastern coast of Australia.
Albanese stated that Australian taxpayers were not in a position to purchase every island in that region—more than 500 in total—just to prevent China from acquiring any of the Conflicts.
Plus, it would set a terrible precedent. “If sellers of assets came through the media [to] say, ‘I want Australia to buy this or else there’s implications, we’ll sell it to China’, think about where that ends, in terms of taxpayers,” he said.
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Foreign Minister Penny Wong received an email from the islands’ current owner, retired businessman Ian Gowrie-Smith, in June offering to sell them for ASD$36 million ($25 million). He noted that given the Solomon Islands’ recent signing of a security pact with China and their strategic location near one of Australia’s main shipping lanes and the three enormous data cables that carry Australia’s data along the ocean floor, they pose an additional national security interest. He threatened that if he did not hear back, he would sell them to Beijing.
Going around the media, Gowrie-Smith said he was “baffled” by the lack of interest considering that at least one of the atolls could fit a military airstrip and that his “agent” was already in contact with Chinese buyers. However, he received no response to his claims. “I don’t know whether [the proposed deals] are of a strategic nature, but the fact of the matter is they have the money,” he said.
Albanese asserted, citing travels to many Pacific states since assuming office in May, that his administration was better than his predecessor’s at projecting regional might against China. He said, “We’ll have a look at this particular transaction,” before adding that the problem really belongs to Papua New Guinea because the islands are part of its sovereign territory.