Solomon Islands' Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare shaking hands with Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison (L) befor their talks in Honiara on Monday. AFP
Australia is to fund a $250 million (US$173 million) grants programme for the Solomon Islands, according to reports on Monday, as Canberra confronts a growing Chinese influence in the region.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in his first overseas trip since re-election two weeks ago, was to unveil the package amid talks with Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Australian media said.
It came in a three-pronged Canberra initiative with Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne highlighting Australia’s push for economic security in the region.
The grants programme, to cover a range of projects over 10 years, is designed to allow the Solomons to finance urgently-required infrastructure.
Further funds will be used to help Solomon Islanders access work opportunities in Australia and an initiative to assist with football in the country.
Morrison announced last year a multibillion-dollar package for much-needed infrastructure in the Pacific and Australia recently funded a new underwater internet cable for the Solomon Islands to lock out Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.
The Solomons is one of a handful of nations that still recognise Taipei rather than Beijing.
But with an economy hampered by declining resources, the impoverished South Pacific archipelago is being pressured to sever ties with Taiwan and join up with China’s multibillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen recently urged Australia, the United States and Japan to join with Taipei in a “values-based partnership” to push back against China’s growth in the Pacific.
Morrison diplomatically phrased Canberra’s intentions as seeking “the peaceful independence and sovereignty of all Pacific Island nations ... and to address the many challenges that are present in our region.”
Last year, Morrison announced a multibillion dollar infrastructure financing facility as part of Australia’s “Pacific Step Up,” which is aimed at combatting rising Chinese influence in the region.
Meanwhile, Reynolds told the Shangri-La Dialogue security conference in Singapore over the weekend that Canberra “wants to do our bit to ensure the Pacific region is resilient and it is stable.
“We have a package of initiatives that are far-reaching in scope and also in ambition — security, economic, diplomatic, development and people-to-people initiatives that build on long and historic relationships and friendships,” she said.
Payne headed to Fiji on Monday to discuss “deepening our security, economic and people-to-people links.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday warned that “collateral damage” from trade spats between China and the United States were hurting smaller countries and threatening the global economy.
Yang Hengjun, a former Chinese diplomat turned online journalist and blogger, was last week formally arrested by Chinese authorities, seven months after he was detained in the country.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Wednesday and signed several agreements in the first official visit since the two countries
The decision was made in order to facilitate intensified sterilization procedures in the area, due to the high density of its population.
Worldwide, more than 788,000 people have been infected and 166,000 have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University. Italy's death toll rose to nearly 11,600 — the highest in the world by far — but its rates of new infections were slowing.
Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 3,111 new infections have been confirmed over the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 44,606. He said 3,703 of those hospitalised are in a critical condition and 14,656 have recovered.
The announcement brings the country's tally of confirmed virus cases up to 289, according to ministry's spokesman Dr. Abdullah Al-Sanad. In addition, 216 virus patients are still receiving necessary treatment, while 13 others are in intensive care units.