Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is set to visit Australia some six months after signing a security agreement with China that raised concern in Canberra, which has a longstanding security pact of its own with the Pacific island nation.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who described the relationship between Australia and the Solomon Islands as “incredibly important”, said Sogavare would visit Canberra on October 6.
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The Solomon Islands’s deepening relationship with China has caused disquiet at home and overseas since the government switched diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing in 2019.
Leaders in Australia, New Zealand and the United States worried the security deal might allow Beijing to establish a military base in the Pacific. At the same time, concerns about Chinese influence also contributed to rioting in Honiara last year, as angry mobs rampaged through the capital’s Chinatown area and tried to storm Sogavare’s residence. However, peace was restored after the government requested Australia’s help under the security pact the two countries signed in 2017.
Sogavare’s visit to Australia comes as the two countries mend a relationship strained since the China agreement was confirmed in April.
The two prime ministers met in July at the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji, and Sogavare also travelled to Washington, DC, at the end of last month for a White House summit of Pacific leaders, signing up to an agreement that promised to allow “democracy to flourish” and made climate change a priority.
“As members of the Pacific Family, we are committed to working together to face our shared challenges and achieve our shared goals, including on climate change,” Albanese said in a statement on Wednesday.
“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.”
Solomon Islands has a history of political instability, with Australia leading a multilateral peacekeeping mission there in 2003, following a coup at the end of the 1990s that triggered widespread unrest.
Sogavare is currently under pressure over his plan to delay elections for a year until 2024.
The US has also stepped up its engagement in the Pacific islands in the wake of the Solomon Islands-China deal. It plans to reopen its Honiara embassy and new outposts in the region, as well as provide hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.