Solomon Islands leader to travel to Australia on fence-mending visit

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare will meet Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY - Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare will visit Australia on Thursday as both countries look to mend ties which soured after the Pacific nation struck a security pact with China in April.

The agreement raised concern for the United States and Australia, who have for decades seen the Pacific region as largely their sphere of influence.

"Our relationship with Solomon Islands is incredibly important," said Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

"I look forward to engaging with Prime Minister Sogavare on building a strong and prosperous Pacific region, based on principles of transparency, respect and partnership."

Both leaders last met in July at the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji.

Australia is the Solomon Islands' largest development partner in health, justice, education, infrastructure and other areas.

But an offer by Canberra in September to fund the Pacific island's next election led Solomon Islands to accuse Australia of "interference".

Australia's government has tried to reset its relationship with Mr Sogavare, who has grown close to Beijing since violent riots against his leadership broke out in the capital of Honiara last year.

The meeting between Mr Sogavare and Mr Albanese also comes days after US President Joe Biden and 14 Pacific island states issued a joint declaration to strengthen their partnership amid Washington's offer US$810 million (S$1.1 billion) in new funding for the region.

Solomon Islands endorsed the document after earlier indicating it would not sign the declaration.

It explained later that the initial joint statement had "indirect" references to the Chinese government and that Solomon Islands did not want to "choose sides". REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AFP

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