Mon, Jun 03, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Morrison visits Solomon Islands to boost relations

Reuters, SYDNEY

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, left, walks with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, right, yesterday after arriving at Honiara International Airport on Guadalcanal.

Photo: AFP / Adam Taylor / Australian Prime Minister’s Office

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrived in the Solomon Islands yesterday, the first visit by an Australian leader in more than a decade as Western nations seek to rein in China’s influence in the Pacific.

The trip comes as the US and its regional allies try to ensure that Pacific nations with diplomatic links to Taiwan do not sever those in favor of ties with Beijing.

The Solomon Islands is one of six Pacific countries to recognize Taiwan, a policy now in question after recent elections.

Morrison flew into Honiara on his first overseas trip since winning re-election last month.

He did not make any public comments on arrival, but has said the visit will show Australia’s commitment to the region.

“The Pacific is front and center of Australia’s strategic outlook,” he said in a statement last week.

Morrison’s trip comes just a few days before a visit to the Solomon Islands by New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who is also to travel to Vanuatu this week.

Keen to undercut China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Australia has directed ever-larger amounts of its foreign aid to the Pacific.

It has offered Pacific countries up to A$3 billion (US$2.1 billion) in grants and loans to build infrastructure, as Morrison declared the region was “our patch.”

Canberra last year said it would spend A$139 million to develop undersea Internet cable links to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, amid national security concerns about Chinese telecom Huawei Technologies Co (華為).

Australia became the first country to ban Huawei’s gear from its nascent broadband network, a step the US followed this year by effectively banning US firms from doing business with Huawei.

The issue of climate change, which has at times strained Australia’s relationship with its Pacific neighbors, is likely to feature prominently during the visit, Australian broadcaster SBS News said yesterday.

Solomon Islands lawmaker Peter Kenilorea Jr said he wanted Australia to show “stronger leadership” on climate change, SBS News journalist Pablo Vinales said in a tweet yesterday.

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