Solomon Islands tells Australia it remains partner of choice

By Thomson Reuters May 20, 2024 | 11:40 PM

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Solomon Islands’ newly elected Prime Minister Jeremiah Manele said the Pacific Island nation was ready to discuss “much, much larger bilateral co-operation” with Australia, as the latter’s Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles visited on Tuesday.

A security pact struck with China in 2022 by the previous pro-Beijing leader Manasseh Sogavare, who encouraged Chinese infrastructure projects, alarmed Canberra and Washington amid concern over China’s naval ambitions in the region.

The Solomon Islands’ biggest aid donor, Australia provided policing support for national elections in April. China also has a policing presence on the archipelago, strategically located 1,600 km (990 miles) northeast of Australia.

“Australia remains Solomon Islands’ partner of choice and I want to see our relationship grow to new heights during my tenure as prime minister,” Manele told Marles in his first meeting as leader, the islands’ government said in a statement.

Marles, who is also defence minister, is on a one-day visit to Honiara, during which he also met Sogavare, the new government’s finance minister.

Australia has provided extra budget support of A$7 million ($4.66 million), and is in further talks, the statement added, while welcoming opportunities to send more citizens to work in Australia under a labour migration programme.

“I am ready to discuss the possibility of much, much larger bilateral co-operation partnerships to fast-track transformational undertakings,” Manele said.

Such steps would hasten Solomon Islands’ efforts to achieve economic, social and security goals, he added.

($1=1.5029 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)