Solomon Islands says Chinese foreign minister will arrive this week to sign pacts

Band Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY, May 23 (Reuters)Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit the Solomon Islands this week and sign key agreements, which are expected to include a security pact criticized by the United States, Australia and Japan.

The Solomon Islands government and Chinese ambassador confirmed the visit on Monday, with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare describing it as a milestone.

“Prime Minister Sogavare looks forward to productive engagement with the PRC as an important development partner at a very critical time in our history,” the government said in a statement.

Wang and a delegation of 20 officials from Beijing are expected to arrive midweek and spend a day in Honiara, attending meetings and paying a courtesy visit to Sogavare. He will also hold a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele.

“The highlight of the visit is the signing of a number of key bilateral agreements with the national government,” the government statement said.

While in the Solomon Islands, Wang will sign the security pact that has raised concern among Western allies, who fear it could lead to China gaining a military presence in the Pacific. The pact has become a major issue in neighboring Australia’s election campaign, with newly elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese saying it would make his country “less secure”.

Beijing said the security deal will not affect regional security and only covers domestic policing.

Solomon politicians have said trade deals with China are also expected to be signed this week.

In a video posted to social media on Monday evening, Australia’s new foreign minister, Penny Wong, said she would soon visit the Pacific Islands and pledged Australia’s cooperation on climate change and a deeper defense and maritime cooperation.

Quad leaders from Australia, the United States, Japan and India are due to meet in Tokyo on Tuesday. They are expected to discuss the Pacific and announce an initiative to crack down on illegal fishing in the Pacific, using satellite tracking technology, the Financial Times reported on Saturday.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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