Australian prime minister visits Solomon Islands to build ties

Australian prime minister visits Solomon Islands to build ties

Reuters

Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrived in the Solomon Islands on June 2, 2019, the first visit by an Australian leader in more than a decade as Western nations seek to rein in China’s influence in the Pacific.

The trip comes as the United States and its regional allies try to ensure that Pacific nations with diplomatic links to Taiwan do not sever those in favor of ties with Beijing.

The Solomon Islands is one of six Pacific countries to recognize Taiwan, a policy now in question after recent elections. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) refuses to acknowledge Taiwan’s right to state-to-state ties.

Morrison flew into the capital, Honiara, on his first overseas trip since winning re-election in May 2019. He did not make public comments on arrival but has said the visit will show Australia’s commitment to the region.

“The Pacific is front and center of Australia’s strategic outlook,” he said in a prepared statement.

Morrison’s trip came just a few days before a visit to the Solomon Islands by New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who also traveled to Vanuatu.

Australia has historic ties with the Pacific, but the PRC has increased its activities in the region in recent years.

Keen to undercut China’s One Belt, One Road policy, which seeks to link China with Asia and Europe through controversial infrastructure projects, Australia has directed ever larger amounts of its foreign aid to the Pacific.

Australia has offered Pacific countries up to AUS $3 billion in grants and loans to build infrastructure, as Morrison declared the region was “our patch.”

Canberra said in 2018 that it would spend U.S. $139 million to develop undersea internet cable links to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, amid national security concerns about Chinese telecommunications company Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.

Australia became the first country to ban the world’s largest maker of telecommunications network gear from its nascent broadband network, a step the United States followed this year by effectively banning U.S. firms from doing business with Huawei.

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