June 3, 2019

PM Morrison’s Solomon Islands visit not just about China-U.S tensions

Australia's relationship with the Solomon Islands should not be seen in relation to the rivalry between China and the United States in the Pacific, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stressed.

Morrison is the first Australian prime minister to visit the Solomons in a decade and outlined a series of announcements after meeting with Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on Monday.

“We have got to be careful not to see what are ongoing and upgrading relationships here for Australia and the Pacific through those binary terms of the United States and China,” Morrison told reporters.

“They have their interests in the region, as do others.

“Our relationship with the Solomon Islands, our relationship with the Pacific, transcends all of that.”

The United States has recently expressed concern that China - with whom it is locked in a trade war - has been trying to influence Pacific nations' diplomatic relationships with have with Taiwan.

Six Pacific island nations give diplomatic recognition to Taiwan, accounting for a third of its diplomatic allies.

But Chinese President Xi Jinping last week told the visiting prime minister of Vanuatu that his country is not seeking a sphere of influence among Pacific states.

“Morrison says it is entirely up to the Solomon Islands where it stands on Taiwan, which Beijing considers a sacred Chinese territory.

“They are an independent sovereign country who will make decisions in their national interests.

“It is not our place to provide advice or guidance on those decisions.”

The prime minister announced funding to give Solomon Islanders an easier path to get work in Australia, and a bilateral infrastructure program worth up to $250 million (US$174 million) in grant financing over 10 years.

“We're here because we are family with the Pacific,” he said.

“I made it clear before the election that I wanted to make this a mark of our government that we were keenly interested at a very deep level about this relationship.”

Sogavare presented Morrison with a ukelele and a traditional wood carving.

Days after Morrison’s conservative government’s surprise election victory, U.S Acting Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asia W. Patrick Murphy visited Australia and urged Pacific island nations not to withdraw diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.

SOURCE: SBS/PACNEWS
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