Australia pledges support to Solomons amid China’s growing influence

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles pledged support to the Solomon Islands during a visit to the island nation on Tuesday, as Canberra intensifies efforts to counter China’s growing influence in the South Pacific.

Marles’s trip to the capital, Honiara, was his first as an Australian government minister since Jeremiah Manele was elected earlier this month.

Marles pledged to provide healthcare and border control support to the island nation. He said at a news conference that his visit provided an opportunity to discuss the Solomon Islands’ “priorities and the way in which we can partner with them and contribute.”

“Australia sought to be the Solomons’ go-to security partner and had to work to earn that right. Hence, going to Solomon Islands quickly,” said Marles, who is also Australia’s defense minister.

Marles said Australia had pledged $33.3 million for border management and a health center for mothers to access pre- and post-natal care.

The high-level visit comes at a time of increased competition for influence in the South Pacific. The Solomons became the first regional nation to sign a major policing pact with China in July, sparking concern among the island’s traditional partners including Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

Solomon Islands lawmakers elected Manele as prime minister on May 2. The move was largely seen as a sign that the country will maintain close ties with China that were developed under pro-Beijing former leader Manasseh Sogavare.

Manele has indicated that the pact would remain under his government and that as leader he would put his nation’s interests first.