New Zealand’s Ardern says Solomon Islands-China deal ‘gravely concerning’

Solomon Islands opposition leader Matthew Wale said in an interview with ABC television he was disappointed Australia had not acted to stop a deal with China, after he warned Australia’s high commissioner, or ambassador, last year.

High Commissioner Lachlan Strahan responded on Monday, writing on Twitter: “Australia has raised its concerns with (the Solomons) about the proposed Solomons-China security co-operation agreement regularly and respectfully”.

The “Pacific family” was best placed to provide security assistance to the Solomon Islands, he added, with Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne quickly “liking” the tweet.

Washington has also expressed concern about China forming a military relationship, with US officials citing this in February as a reason to reopen a US embassy in Honiara, the capital of the Solomons.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters he would speak with his counterparts in Papua New Guinea and Fiji about the matter on Monday.

“This is an issue of concern for the region, but it has not come as a surprise,” he said.

The Pacific Island nation of fewer than a million people, 2,000km (1,240 miles) northeast of Australia, switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taiwan in 2019, signalling China’s growing influence in the Pacific.

Its principal island is Guadalcanal, the scene of bitter fighting between US and Japanese forces in 1942-43.

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