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.”
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