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Australia Courts Solomon Islands Amid China Competition


Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong expressed Canberra’s desire to strengthen relations with its Pacific neighbour, the Solomon Islands, and foster a regional environment where decisions are made “without fear.” This statement was made as China’s envoy also visited Honiara to meet with the new Prime Minister Jeremiah Manele.

Australia, being the largest development partner of the Solomon Islands, sent its second and third highest-ranking government officials to meet with Manele following his election last month, highlighting its intent to deepen ties, Wong explained during her visit to Honiara on Thursday.

“We want a Pacific Islands region where all of us can make our own decisions, can exercise our sovereignty without fear, and where we can all grow and live together peacefully,” she told reporters on a two-day visit, also pledging $3.4 million for infrastructure for 40 schools.

Manele had told Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles, who visited last month, his government was undertaking a security review to determine the future of policing cooperation.

Australia provided policing support for national elections in April. China also has a policing presence on the archipelago, strategically located 1,600 km (990 miles) northeast of Australia.

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A security pact struck with China in 2022 by the previous pro-Beijing leader Manasseh Sogavare, alarmed Canberra and Washington amid concern over China’s naval ambitions in the region.

China’s visiting Pacific Islands envoy Qian Bo also met Manele on Wednesday, to reaffirm the “special relationship between the two countries”, Solomon Islands government said in a statement.

China had provided infrastructure, policing, health, education, energy and agriculture support since Solomon Islands switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, and Solomon Islands will “continue to enhance” ties, it said.

Two large delegations of Solomon Islands officials have travelled to China for training programmes since May, statements on the Chinese embassy’s website show.

With Inputs from Reuters