Solomon Islands PM visit to Beijing highlights China-US rivalry in South Pacific

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Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare will visit China next week, highlighting the accelerating contest between Beijing and Washington for influence in the South Pacific.

Sogavare will visit from Sunday to Saturday, meeting top officials in Beijing and traveling to Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces, among China’s most developed, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing Thursday.

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His visit will “inject new momentum” into relations and “deepen mutual political trust, expand pragmatic cooperation and strengthen people-to-people exchanges,” Wang said.

“Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Solomon Islands, our relations have developed rapidly and achieved fruitful results, benefiting the people of both countries and promoting regional peace and stable development,” Wang said.

Sogavare’s switching of diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China and signing of a secretive security agreement that could see Chinese forces stationed in the island nation set off alarm bells in Washington as well as in neighboring Australia and New Zealand.

However, China’s attempts to forge closer partnerships with other island nations in the region have largely fallen flat, and Sogavare has since assured Australia that he would not “endanger his country” by allowing China to establish a naval base in the South Pacific.

The administration of President Joe Biden is proceeding with plans to re-open a US Embassy in the Solomon Islands in an effort to counter China’s influence.

The US has sent several high-level delegations to the region, and in late September, Biden convened a summit of Pacific Island leaders to unveil a new strategy for the area that included pressing issues such as climate change, maritime security and protecting the area from overfishing.

Biden pledged that the US would provide $810 million in new aid for Pacific Island nations over the next decade, including $130 million to address the effects of climate change.

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