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Australia Welcomes Solomon Islands Leader 6 Months After Controversial Pact with China

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, right, and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare shake hands ahead of a bilateral meeting at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Oct. 6, 2022.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is meeting with senior Australian government ministers Thursday as Canberra works to prevent its Pacific neighbors forging closer ties with China.

Australia signed a security agreement with Solomon Islands in 2017, but the relationship has frayed over a deal the Pacific nation struck with China earlier this year.

There were concerns in Canberra that the accord might allow Beijing to set up a military base in the Pacific and could destabilize the region’s delicate geopolitical balance. China said the pact would help it respond to natural disasters and maintain “social order.”

Solomon Islands, a mostly Melanesian archipelago northeast of Australia, has a history of instability. Canberra led a multilateral peacekeeping mission in 2003 following political violence that flared in the late 1990s.

Analysts have said the visit of its Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to Australia on Thursday will give both sides the chance to reset relations. It will also allow Canberra the opportunity to push-back against China’s diplomatic and trade ambitions in the region.

Meg Keen, the director of the Pacific Island Program at the Lowy Institute, told VOA that China’s interest in the Pacific is growing.

“It is part of the Chinese expansion to get greater global reach, greater influence, as a great power, as it sees itself and there are a large number of votes, independent countries, in the Pacific islands,” she said. “So, that is valuable for it in terms of the U.N. In particularly Melanesia, there are resources that will be of interest to it, particularly in fisheries, forestry, and minerals.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met Sogavare in July at the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji.

Sogavare also traveled recently to Washington, D.C., for a White House summit of Pacific leaders. He signed up to an agreement that pledged to allow “democracy to flourish” and made climate change a priority.

The United States has also increased its engagement in the Pacific islands since the Solomon Islands-China deal.

It plans to reopen its embassy in the Solomon Islands’ capital, Honiara, and provide hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.