CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s new foreign minister visited the Solomon Islands on Friday to assure the South Pacific island nation it doesn’t need a security pact with China.
The Solomons are the fifth Pacific country to be visited by Foreign Secretary Penny Wong since her centre-left Labor Party came to power in elections on May 21.
She is the first Australian minister to visit the Solomons since her government signed a secret security pact with China that many believe could lead to the establishment of a Chinese naval base less than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from the northeast coast of Australia.
Wong described his talks with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare as “constructive” and “wide-ranging”.
“Australia’s view remains that the Pacific family should be responsible for our security and the Pacific family is more than capable of providing that security,” Wong told reporters in the capital, Honiara.
“I welcomed Prime Minister Sogavare’s assurances that there will be no military base or persistent military presence here in the Solomon Islands, and I welcome his assurance that Australia will remain Solomon Islands’ choice and the first development partner of choice,” she added.
Sogavare’s office did not immediately respond to the AP’s request for comment.
Australia is the Solomons’ most generous foreign aid donor and, like China, has a bilateral security pact with the restive nation of 700,000 people.
Australian police have been keeping the peace in Honiara since the riots last November.
When the Sino-Solomon pact was signed during the recent Australian election campaign, Wong described it as the worst failure of Australian foreign policy in the Pacific since World War II.
Australia’s new government promises more action on climate change and greater engagement with Australia’s island neighbours.
Wong announced in Honiara that Australia would donate up to 200,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11. Australia has already supplied the Solomons with more than 500,000 doses.
Australia’s former minister for international development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja, flew to Honiara in April to unsuccessfully urge Sogavare to drop plans to sign the China pact.
Seselja arrived the same day US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke with the Solomons government about Washington’s plans to reopen an embassy in Honiara.
A US delegation to Honiara led by National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink warned after the pact was signed that the United States would take unspecified action against the Solomons should the China deal pose a threat to U.S. or allied interests.
Sogavare accused the United States and Australia of threatening and disrespectful behavior.