WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and a 20-person delegation arrived in the Solomon Islands Thursday at the start of an eight-country tour that comes amid growing concerns about Beijing. military and financial ambitions in the South Pacific region.
Australia was working to counter this move by sending its own Foreign Minister Penny Wong to Fiji to bolster support in the Pacific. Wong was at work just five days after an Australian election and had just returned from a meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday evening.
“We must respond to this because it is China that seeks to increase its influence in the region of the world where Australia has been the security partner of choice since World War II,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told AFP. the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands Media Association was calling on its members to boycott a press conference held in the capital, Honiara, by Wang and his Solomon Islands counterpart, Jeremiah Manele.
Indeed, only selected media were invited to the event and the schedule allowed only one question to Wang by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
“This is a tough call to make regarding the media boycott for Thursday’s press event,” association president Georgina Kekea wrote on Twitter. “Our protest is for our government to see our disappointment. They failed us and they failed to protect #democracy.
China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands last month in a move that sent shockwaves around the world.
The pact has raised fears that China could send troops to the island nation or even establish a military base there, not far from Australia. The Solomon Islands and China say there are no plans for a base.
A document draft obtained by The Associated Press shows that Wang hopes to strike a deal with 10 small Pacific nations during his visit. The comprehensive deal covers everything from security to fisheries, and is seen by a Pacific leader as an attempt by Beijing to wrest control of the region.
Wang hopes the countries will endorse the pre-written deal in a joint statement after a May 30 meeting in Fiji with the other foreign ministers.
During her 10-day visit, Wang also plans to stop in Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.