Pacific Islands Forum should consider China security ties, say Samoa and NZ

The Pacific Islands Forum meeting taking place on May 29 in Fiji's capital city of Suva. PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON (REUTERS) - China's bid to set up a security pact with Pacific island countries should be considered by a regional forum, the leaders of Samoa and New Zealand said on Tuesday (June 14), weeks after the Solomon Islands sparked uproar by signing a deal with China.

The Pacific islands and their old allies, including the United States, Australia and New Zealand, were caught off guard by the Solomon Islands' security pact with China as it pushes to expand its influence in the region.

"The issues need to be considered in the broader context of what we have in place and what we want to do in terms of security provisions for the region," Samoa's Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata'afa told a news conference with her New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern, referring to the Pacific Islands Forum.

Leaders of the forum's members are due to meet in mid-July in Fiji, their first in-person gathering since 2019.

China has dismissed criticism of its pact with the Solomon Islands, saying it poses no military threat and closer ties benefit everyone, and is promoting a proposal for a region-wide deal with almost a dozen Pacific countries covering policing, security and data communication cooperation.

Pacific leaders discussed the proposal with a top Chinese official last month but they have not agreed to it.

"The decision was that the group of countries felt that the appropriate modality of consideration of these kinds of proposals need to be passed through the forum secretary," Ms Mata'afa said.

Ms Ardern also said that under regional agreements, the Pacific Islands Forum was where security should be discussed.

"As a forum we will come together, we'll discuss these issues, we'll of course, hopefully build consensus," she said.

But consensus on the question of China is likely to remain a challenge when four members of the forum - Palau, the Marshall Islands, Nauru and Tuvalu - recognise Taiwan rather than Beijing.

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