Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare flew to China on Saturday to strengthen their “serious” relationship, his office said, as Beijing cements its growing influence in the Pacific region.
The two countries’ expanding ties — which include a secretive defense pact struck between Beijing and Honiara last year — have caused consternation among the United States and its regional allies, including Australia.
Sogavare’s official July 9-15 visit comes at the invitation of Chinese Premier Li Qiang, the Solomon Islands prime minister’s office said in a statement.
Beijing is financing the visit, it said.
The Solomons’ leader will open an embassy in Beijing and meet with high-ranking members of the government and business leaders, the statement added. He will also tour the provinces of Jiangsu and Guangdong.
“During the visit, leaders of the two countries will further strengthen current bilateral ties and share their views as well as further cementing understanding on issues of common concern,” the Solomons said.
“Since its inception, the relationship continues to thrive and expand, a testament of a serious connection.”
While Washington and its allies have been the dominant power in the region since at least World War II, China is increasingly keen to secure a military foothold and undermine US primacy.
Last week, Sogavare told AFP that he had asked for a “review” of a longstanding defense pact with Australia, without specifying what changes he would seek.
But Sogavare said he was not trying to downgrade relations with Australia.
“You know, Australia remains a significant aid donor and a major development partner to Solomon Islands and we want to further enhance that relationship,” he said.
“I have also asked for more collaboration from Australia, especially in terms of development among others.”
The Australian government framed the request for a review as an opportunity to update the agreement in line with the “contemporary security environment” and assistance provided by Canberra.