Solomon Islands
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Sogavare Meets Australian Prime Minister in Canberra

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has used the opening of a meeting with Anthony Albanese to once again reassure Australia over his government's security pact with China, declaring he will never allow a foreign military base to be set up in his country.

Mr Sogavare also emphatically declared he won't do anything to jeopardise Pacific Island nations' security, while pressing Australia to ramp up development commitments in Solomon Islands.

"Solomon Islands will not do anything that will undermine our national security, and jeopardise the security of any or all forum countries," he said.

"Prime minister, I reiterate again that Solomon Islands will never be used for foreign military installations or institutions of foreign countries, because this will not be in the interest of Solomon Islands and its people.

"My government's legacy is to safeguard the future of Solomon Islands and its people, not endanger the country and its citizens or the security of any forum country."

The meeting comes only weeks after Mr Sogavare slammed Australia's offer to fund national elections so they didn't have to be delayed, accusing the federal government of meddling in Solomon Islands domestic politics.

He then said he'd accept the offer while appearing to mock Australia, warning the federal government would have to "get ready" for "a very big cost."

But Mr Sogavare struck a radically different tone ahead of Thursday's talks with Mr Albanese, thanking him for his "kind offer" to help, and praising Australia's commitments to help fund the 2023 Pacific Games.

Mr Albanese responded warmly to Mr Sogavare's remarks.

"I thank you for your clear and unequivocal commitments. They are the commitments of a friend and I look forward to the dialogue," he said.

'Common interests'

Mr Albanese indirectly acknowledged Australia's recent disagreements with Mr Sogavare's government, but stressed that the two countries shared wide common interests.

"Like families we won't always agree on every single item, but what we will agree on is … pursuing common interests wherever we can. Australia regards ourselves as very much wanting to be partners of choice [for Solomon Islands]," he said.

"We regard security in our region as being critical, and we also regard the need to uplift the living standards and quality of life of people in the Pacific as being absolutely critical."

Mr Albanese said when the two leaders last met at the Pacific Islands Forum in July they agreed on the "absolutely critical" need to build trust.

"Australia regards ourselves as very much as the Pacific family, and that means people-to-people relationships and building face-to-face contacts like this are so important to us," he said.

On a short seven-hour stopover in the Australian capital, the Solomon Islands prime minister will also meet Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Defence Minister Richard Marles.

After the talks on Thursday, Mr Albanese, who hinted at a possible visit to Solomon Islands in the future, will host Mr Sogavare at The Lodge.

Sogavare pushes Australia for development help

The Lowy Institute's Mihai Sora said that, while Australia would welcome the warmer rhetoric from Mr Sogavare, it did not signal a profound shift in the relationship.

"Mr Sogavare's broad assurances of Australia's role in Solomon Islands' development reflect the reality that he needs good relations with Australia," he said.

"They do not imply a change in course of Solomon Islands' increasingly close security ties with China."

Australia remains anxious that, if unrest flares up once again in Solomon Islands, Chinese police or troops could be invited into the country under the contentious security pact signed earlier this year.

"Sooner or later, someone will have to address the increasingly realistic problems of interoperability between Australian and Chinese personnel in the event of a security or humanitarian incident in Solomon Islands," Mr Sora said.

"But probably not today."

Mr Sora said it was interesting that Mr Sogavare used his opening statement to push Australia to help develop infrastructure across all provinces in Solomon Islands.

"Honiara, both under Mr Sogavare and under previous successive governments since that agreement was signed, has often been criticised for not delivering sufficient infrastructure and development to other parts of the country," Mr Sora said.

"Provincial authorities in Malaita have been vocal critics of Solomon Islands' uneven development, which was a core issue in the lead-up to the November 2021 unrest in the capital [Honiara].

"Australian development assistance seeks to achieve positive outcomes across the archipelago, but it was interesting that Mr Sogavare set this as the benchmark for a good development partner to Solomon Islands."

Source: ABC

URL: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-10-06/anthony-albanese-meets-with-manasseh-sogavare/101507600