Australia’s foreign minister Wong to travel to Solomon Islands amid concern over China security pact
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s foreign minister will travel to the Solomon Islands on Friday to meet with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare amid concern over the regional impact of a security deal between the Pacific islands nation and China.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a news release that she would travel to the Solomon Islands and New Zealand, in her third visit to the Pacific since being sworn in last month.
Australia was committed to deepening cooperation with the Solomon Islands on shared challenges including climate change, and Wong would meet with Sogavare, the statement said.
“I look forward to discussing the ways we can continue to make progress on pandemic recovery, economic development and labour mobility priorities, and addressing our shared security interests,” she said.
The Solomon Islands security pact, as well as a proposal by China for a sweeping security and trade agreement with 10 Pacific islands nations, will be discussed at next month’s Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting in Suva, several island nations have said.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, met with Sogavare in Honiara last month, as part of an eight-nation Pacific tour, agreeing to deepen cooperation between China and Solomon Islands in fisheries, mining, infrastructure and trade.
Wang said the security pact with the Solomon Islands would improve policing and protect Chinese citizens and institutions there.
“China supports Pacific Island countries in strengthening security cooperation and working together to address regional security challenges,” he said during the visit.
Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States have said they are concerned Beijing could establish a military presence in the Pacific, although Sogavare has denied the pact would allow a military base.
Fiji told a security conference in Singapore over the weekend that climate change was the most pressing security concern for the Pacific islands.
In New Zealand, Wong will discuss regional security and climate change with her counterpart. “New Zealand is an indispensable partner in our ambitions for a stronger Pacific family,” she said.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham. Editing by Gerry Doyle)