Australia, Solomon Island’s Foreign Minister meet for first time since pact signed

(Reuters) – Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she met her Solomon Islands counterpart Jeremiah Manele for the first time since his government signed a controversial security pact with China, and agreed Australia remained security partner of choice.

Australia, the United States and New Zealand have expressed concern about the security pact, fearing the increased militarisation of the Pacific and growing Chinese influence in a region traditionally under their sway. Details of the pact have not been released.

Payne told Reuters in a statement on Saturday that she had met with Manele on Friday as he transited through Australia. She said she reiterated the Australian government’s deep concern about the security agreement with China, including a lack of transparency.

“We agreed that Australia remains Solomon Islands’ security partner of choice,” she said.

Payne added she again welcomed Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s assurance that Solomon Islands will not be used for a foreign military base and that Australia would work constructively and respectfully with their Pacific family.