Solomon Islands confirms ‘milestone’ China visit

China’s foreign minister will make a “milestone” visit to Solomon Islands this week, the island state said, after the two nations sealed a wide-ranging security pact last month.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s trip comes at a time of heightened United States and Australian concern about China’s intentions in the South Pacific.

The Solomon Islands government confirmed the China visit in a statement Monday — the day Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was sworn into office.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the Chinese foreign minister’s one-day visit at the head of a nearly 20-strong delegation would be a “milestone” in the two countries’ relationship.

Sogavare said he looked forward to a “productive engagement with Beijing, “an important development partner at a very critical time in our history”.

China’s foreign minister will sign “a number” of agreements with the Solomons, the statement said, without mentioning the security pact.

Washington and Canberra fear the security deal — details of which have not been released — could lead to China gaining a military foothold in the South Pacific.

An earlier, leaked draft of the China-Solomons security deal included measures that would allow Chinese naval deployments to Solomon Islands, which lies less than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) from Australia.

The Chinese minister will spend one day in Honiara visiting the Solomons prime minister and holding a joint news conference with foreign minister Jeremiah Manele.

No date was given for the minister’s trip, scheduled for “later this week”.

News of the China visit emerged ahead of a meeting on Tuesday of the US, Japanese, Australian and Indian leaders at a “Quad” summit in Tokyo, with the aim of countering China’s growing economic and military clout in the region.