Australia’s foreign minister in Solomon Islands to discuss security concerns

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Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong met with the Solomon Islands leader Manasseh Sogavare on Friday, the first visit to Honiara by the new Australian government amid concern over its Pacific neighbor’s security pact with China.

Wong made no immediate comment on the talks, but said earlier that she wanted to discuss pandemic recovery, economic development, climate change and “our shared security interests.”

The Solomon Islands security pact with China will be discussed at next month’s Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting in Suva, several island nations have said.

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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 with China would allow a military base, and will instead focus on policing.

The Australian government has said it would expand work opportunities for Pacific islands in Australia, a vital source of remittances for their communities, and has pledged a 10-year SBD 1.5 billion ($181.05 million) infrastructure program for the Solomon Islands to create local economic opportunities.

Australia’s aid has traditionally focused on less visible sectors such as education and health, and Wong visited a school to announce Australia would donate 200,000 COVID-19 vaccines for children under 11.

Acting Education Minister Frederick Kologeto said the vaccines would help schools reopen after they were shut for five months amid the nation’s worst COVID-19 outbreak.

Australia’s medical aid had helped to avoid a “worse disaster", the health minister said.

Wong will also meet with members of the Solomons’ International Assistance Force (SIAF) made of police from Fiji, Australia and New Zealand, formed after Sogavare requested Australia’s assistance to quell a riot in November, local media reported.

China recently signed a raft of trade, mining, fisheries and policing agreements in the Solomon Islands.

Read more:

China unable to reach consensus on security pact with Pacific islands

US says committed to Pacific Islands that rejected ‘opaque’ China pact

New Zealand PM meets Biden to discuss US Indo-Pacific strategy

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