Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manele in Canberra to discuss ties

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Jeremiah Manele shakes hands with Australia Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Australia’s national parliament in Canberra

By Kirsty Needham and Peter Hobson

CANBERRA (Reuters) -Solomon Islands Prime Minister Jeremiah Manele met Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese in Canberra on Wednesday to discuss security and development ties, as the United States and China vie for influence in the Pacific Islands region.

Albanese said Manele had chosen Australia as the first place to visit since becoming leader after national elections in April. He is expected to visit China in July, Solomon Islands media have reported.

Australia and China have a policing presence on the archipelago, strategically located 1,600 km (990 miles) northeast of Australia.

"Australia and Solomon Islands are family with interconnected futures," the leaders said in a joint statement after the meeting.

Australia was Solomon Islands' "security partner of choice", they added, and would assist the Pacific nation boost its police force to reduce its reliance on external security partners.

Solomon Islands would also look to a sub-regional group, the Melanesian Spearhead Group, for security, they noted.

"We are clear and open with one another and this is the key to our enduring partnership. Australia is open to a stronger and deeper partnership with Solomon Islands," Albanese said at a joint media conference after the meeting

He said economic growth and jobs were the priority.

Australia had invested more in infrastructure in Solomon Islands in the past five years than any other international partner, he added.

Manele said the aim of his visit was to discuss how to deepen the two countries' relationship.

"We are very close neighbours," he said.

"Our security partnership with China is domestically focussed," he added.

A security pact struck with China in 2022 by the previous pro-Beijing leader Manasseh Sogavare, alarmed Canberra and ally Washington amid concern over China's naval ambitions in the region.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham and Peter Hobson in Canberra; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Christopher Cushing)