Pacific leaders congratulate Labor Albanians on election result

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Solomon Islands has congratulated Australian Labor leader Anthony Albanese on his election victory, saying there is “much to do” in bilateral relations, as Pacific island neighbor Fiji has praised the party’s climate policies.

Albanese said he would be sworn in as the 31st prime minister on Monday along with four senior party officials, even as the vote count continues, before traveling to Tokyo to attend a ‘Quad’ summit on Tuesday with the president American Joe Biden and the Prime Ministers of Japan and India.

The Solomon Islands’ recent signing of a security pact with China was a major election issue for outgoing Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with Western allies fearing it could provide a gateway for a Chinese military presence in the Pacific.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is expected to visit the Solomon Islands this week, local media reported, although Reuters could not confirm this with the office of Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

In a statement on Sunday, Sogavare said his country “remains Australia’s staunch friend and development partner of choice”.

The Solomon Islands is grateful for Australia’s financial, medical and security support over the years, he said, adding “much more needs to be done”.

Sogavare had written to Albanese and “assured him that he would take the Solomon Islands’ relationship with Australia to another level under Albanese’s tenure”.

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama praised Albanese in a tweet, writing, “Of your many pledges to support the Pacific, none is more welcome than your plan to put climate first.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she called Albanese on Sunday and said the two countries would continue to work together “deepening our partnership with our close friends in the Pacific and advancing our interests on the world stage.”

“Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand are at their best when we work together,” she said.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham. Editing by Gerry Doyle)