Australian Foreign Minister Wong to visit Solomon Islands amid concerns over security pact with China

Children fish on a beach in central Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, September 14, 2012. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

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SYDNEY, June 15 (Reuters) – Australia’s foreign minister will travel to the Solomon Islands on Friday to meet Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, amid concerns over the regional impact of a security deal between the island nation Pacific and China.

Foreign Secretary Penny Wong said in a press release that she would travel to the Solomon Islands and New Zealand, on her third visit to the Pacific since being sworn in last month. Read more

Australia is committed to deepening cooperation with the Solomon Islands on shared challenges, including climate change, and Wong will meet with Sogavare, the statement said.

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“I look forward to discussing ways in which we can continue to make progress on the priorities of pandemic recovery, economic development and labor mobility, and to meet our shared security interests. “, she said.

The Solomon Islands security pact, along with a Chinese proposal for a broad security and trade deal with 10 Pacific island nations, will be discussed at the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting next month in Suva, several island nations said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Sogavare in Honiara last month, as part of a tour of eight Pacific countries, agreeing to deepen cooperation between China and the Solomon Islands in areas of fishing, 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 enhancing security cooperation and working together to address regional security challenges,” he said during his visit. Read more

Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States have said they fear Beijing could establish a military presence in the Pacific, although Sogavare denied the pact would allow for a military base.

Fiji told a security conference in Singapore over the weekend that climate change was the most pressing security issue for the Pacific islands.

In New Zealand, Wong will discuss regional security and climate change with his counterpart. “New Zealand is an indispensable partner in our ambitions for a stronger Pacific family,” she said.

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Reporting by Kirsty Needham. Editing by Gerry Doyle

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