Australian PM to visit Solomon Islands as Pacific nation eyes ties to China

27 May 2019 - 79   - 0

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will visit the Solomon Islands next week, he said on Monday, as Western nations seek to rein in China’s influence on the tiny Pacific island and across the region.

The visit comes as the United States and its allies are trying to ensure that Pacific countries that have diplomatic links with Taiwan, do not severe those in favor of establishing them with Beijing.

The Solomon Islands is one of only a handful of Pacific countries to recognize Taiwan, a policy now in question after recent elections on the islands. China views Taiwan as a renegade province with no right to state-to-state ties.

Morrison’s first overseas trip since winning re-election this month will also be the first time an Australian prime minister has visited the Solomon Islands since 2008.

“The Pacific is front and center of Australia’s strategic outlook,” Morrison said in an emailed statement.

He did not mention efforts to preserve Taiwan’s diplomatic alliances, but analysts say the issue has become a flashpoint in the region and is likely to be raised.

“China is the Solomon Islands’ largest trading partner and this is adding a lot of pressure on lawmakers to switch allegiances,” said Jonathan Pryke, Pacific Islands program director at the think-tank, the Lowy Institute.

On Friday, a senior U.S. official said Washington would help Pacific countries in the face of China’s efforts to expand its influence.

Those remarks threaten to inflame tension between the United States and China already heated by a trade war, U.S. sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea.

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