‘Great concern’ over China-Solomon Islands deal: Australia PM By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison gestures as he makes a statement at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain November 1, 2021. Alastair Grant / Pool via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Saturday there was “great concern” across the Pacific after Solomon Islands confirmed it was creating a security partnership with China.

The Pacific island nation on Friday said it was expanding ties with China to combat security threats and ensure a safe environment for investment as it diversifies security relations.

A potential China security pact with Solomon Island has sparked concerns among US allies Australia and New Zealand about Chinese influence a region where they have for decades held strong sway.

Asked by reporters in Sydney about the matter, Morrison said “there is great concern across the Pacific family because we are in constant contact with our Pacific family”.

“I will be in further discussions with leaders over the course of this weekend, there was a meeting yesterday with our head of mission and Prime Minister (Manasseh) Sogavare,” he said.

Morrison said Sogavare on Friday indicated to Canberra that he appreciated Australia’s ongoing support for Solomon Islands.

“We are the Solomon Islands’ single largest development partner, daylight second, third, fourth,” Morrison said.

Australia has previously expressed concern about the impact on regional security of military cooperation between China and Solomon Islands after a draft document outlining the proposed cooperation was leaked this week.

On Thursday, a Solomon Islands official told Reuters a security deal with China covering the military would be sent to its cabinet for consideration. The Solomons has already signed a policing deal with China.

Solomon Islands, a small island nation around 2,000 km (1,240 miles) northeast of Australia, switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taiwan in 2019, signaling China’s growing influence in the Pacific.

Washington last month said it would open an embassy in nation’s the capital Honiara amid fears China was seeking to strengthen military relations there.

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