SUVA (Reuters) – The Solomon Islands prime minister met counterparts from Australia and New Zealand for the first time since striking a security pact with China that sparked concern among U.S. allies over Beijing’s military ambitions in the Pacific islands.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare met Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New Zealand premier Jacinda Ardern in separate bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji.
During the four-day meeting, Pacific island leaders will discuss how to gather more international support and funding to fight the impact of rising sea levels and climate change, as well as China’s aim for greater security ties in the region.
The Solomon Islands security pact with China became a major election issue in Australia. Albanese said it was a failing of diplomacy by his predecessor Scott Morrison.
“We are family and there are many issues, and that makes family stronger,” Sogavare said, after hugging Albanese.
Details of the pact have not been disclosed, but Sogavare has ruled out allowing China to have a military base and said the deal covered policing to protect Chinese projects because an agreement with traditional partner Australia was “inadequate”.
Albanese said Australia and the Solomon Islands could to more to build trust and “for joint benefit”.
“As members of the region we want to advance the interests of the Pacific,” he said.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Edmund Blair)