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Western countries watch as China’s foreign minister begins the South Pacific tour

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and a 20-member delegation arrived in the Solomon Islands on Thursday at the start of an eight-nation tour amid growing concerns about Beijing’s military and financial ambitions in the South Pacific region. .

Australia was trying to counter the move by sending its foreign minister Penny Wong to Fiji to support support in the Pacific. Wong has been at work just five days after the Australian election and had just returned Wednesday night from a meeting in Tokyo.

“We have to respond to this because this is China seeking to increase its influence in the region of the world where Australia has been the chosen security partner since World War II,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told Australian Broadcasting Corp. .

Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands Media Association was urging its members to boycott a press conference being held in the capital, Honiara, by Wang and his Solomon Islands counterpart, Jeremiah Manele.

This was because only selected media were invited to the event and the schedule allowed only one question to be asked of Wang by China’s state broadcaster CCTV.

“It is a difficult call to make in connection with the media boycott of Thursday’s press event,” association president Georgina Kekea wrote on Twitter. “Our protest is for our government to see our frustration. They have failed us and have failed to defend #democracy.”

China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands last month, a move that sent shockwaves around the world.

The pact has raised fears that China could send troops to the island nation or even set up a military base there, not far from Australia. Solomon Islands and China say there are no plans for a base.

A draft document obtained by the Associated Press shows that Wang hopes to reach an agreement with 10 small Pacific countries during his visit. The comprehensive agreement covers everything from safety to fisheries and is seen by a Pacific leader as an attempt by Beijing to relinquish control of the region.

Wang hopes the countries will approve the stipulated agreement as part of a joint communiqué following a May 30 meeting in Fiji with other foreign ministers.

During his 10-day visit, Wang is also planning to make stops in Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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