Australia supports Solomons' vaccines push

·2-min read

Australia will deliver up to 200,000 child COVID-19 vaccines to the Solomon Islands in a bid to support the Pacific nation's pandemic recovery.

The doses will kickstart the island nation's vaccination campaign for children aged between five and 11, and feed into the Solomons' back-to-school plan.

The doses come on top of more than 500,000 vaccines and 40 tonnes of medical equipment and supplies which have already been delivered by Australia.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who was in the Solomons' capital Honiara on Friday to make the announcement, said Australia would continue to support its Pacific neighbour.

"Australia is standing with Solomon Islands to ensure children can be vaccinated against COVID-19, protecting them and their communities from serious illness and minimising disruption to learning caused by the pandemic," she said in a statement.

The Solomon Islands' health minister thanked Australia for its support and partnership, saying the engagement between the two nations had helped the country through the pandemic.

"If not for Australia's significant support the impact of COVID-19 on our health systems and people would have been far worse," Dr Culwick Togamana said.

"Though the COVID-19 situation has improved, the reopening of the borders will soon present risks of other variants entering our communities and posing health risks to our children."

Senator Wong's visit comes ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum in mid-July, where nations will discuss a proposed Chinese regional pact.

China initially pushed for a region-wide security agreement before watering down its proposal in a subsequent position paper, following backlash from some island nations.

A bilateral security deal signed between the Solomon Islands and China is being viewed by some as a potential wedge in the Pacific islands as Beijing moves to expand its influence in the region.

China additionally signed a number of economic and infrastructure agreements with the Solomons, while the revised position paper focuses heavily on infrastructure development and economic relationships.

Beijing has also instituted a multitude of bilateral agreements on infrastructure projects and areas of co-operation, such as in fishing, with 10 Pacific island nations - including eight which were recently visited by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Senator Wong on Thursday reiterated the importance of working towards economic stability to avoid smaller Pacific island nations becoming indebted to other countries.

Australia and New Zealand maintain the security of the region should remain within "the Pacific family", with their stance drawing a veiled swipe from a top Solomon Islands diplomat who criticised other nations in the region for not adhering to the principles of sovereignty.

Colin Beck, who serves as the Solomons' permanent secretary to the United Nations and ambassador to the United States, wrote on Twitter: "When the principle of non-interference into the internal affairs of another state is cast aside a new era of relations is emerging in the Pacific".

"Concept of family is redefined," he wrote.

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