Wang Yi will visit the Solomon Islands this week followed by other Pacific nations.
Updated by Faith Barbara Namagembe at 1124 EAT on Tuesday 24th May 2022.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will travel to the Pacific this week to visit several countries, including the Solomon Islands, as Beijing seeks to solidify its presence there.
The Solomon Islands confirmed the trip on Monday and said that the government was preparing to welcome Wang Yi and a 20-person delegation in Honiara.
It said Wang would “arrive later this week” without disclosing a date, but Australia’s ABC reported that he was due to arrive on Wednesday evening.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the trip will be a “milestone” in bilateral relations.
Li Ming, China’s ambassador to the Solomon Islands, said both sides would sign a “number of key bilateral agreements” during the trip. Wang Yi is also due to meet with Sogavare and the archipelago’s acting governor-general.
The Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China in April in a move that ruffled feathers in Australia, which has had a security deal with Honiara since 2019, and raised concerns about China’s growing influence in the region.
The ABC reported that after the Solomon Islands, Wang Yi will travel to Fiji and Papua New Guinea, although the rest of his itinerary has not been confirmed.
The trip was revealed as the leaders of the Quad – from Japan, India, the United States and Australia – were meeting in to Tokyo to discuss the future security of the Asia Pacific. The grouping is widely seen as an attempt to counter China.
Australia may also have been caught off guard after a change of government in the election held at the weekend.
The newly installed Labor party under Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has promised to “reset” relations with Beijing, which have soured in recent years, but many Australians are concerned about China’s growing influence in an area some see as their “back yard”.
Australia has been closely watching developments between the Solomon Islands and China.
Under the terms of the April security deal, China will be able to send armed police and warships to the archipelago to “maintain peace” during times of unrest.
While the agreement is similar to one it has with Australia, it has raised concerns that China could use the deal to one day secure a military base there.
Both the Solomon Islands and its fellow Pacific island nation Kiribati switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019.