US 'disappointed' by Solomon Islands snub as Pacific Island leaders gather at White House

US 'disappointed' by Solomon Islands snub as Pacific Island leaders gather at White House

Wednesday 27/09/2023
The Pacific Islands leaders posed for a group photograph with Joe Biden at the White House.(AP: Susan Walsh)

The United States says it is "disappointed" by the absence of Solomon Islands' prime minister from a two-day summit aimed at improving Washington's ties to the region.

Members of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) gathered for the second year in a row at the White House, where President Joe Biden urged leaders to "recommit to each other".

"Because with the past as our proof, we're stronger and the world is safer when we stand together," he said.

The US is working to boost its presence in the Pacific Islands, after publicly conceding it had not focused enough attention on the area while China's influence expanded.

But in a blow to those diplomatic efforts, Solomon Islands' Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare declined to travel on to Washington after visiting New York City last week for the United Nations General Assembly.

"I think it'd be fair to say that the United States is disappointed," a senior administration official told reporters on a background briefing.

"We're disappointed that he has chosen not to come to this very special PIF Summit between the United States and the Pacific Island nations."

A Solomon Islands government official told the ABC that Mr Sogavare needed to attend to "domestic issues" in Honiara and that the invitation from the White House came after parliamentary business had been set.

The secretary of Solomon Islands' foreign affairs ministry, Collin Beck, is attending the summit in Mr Sogavare's place.

Vanuatu's prime minister Sato Kilman is also absent from the summit, however the US said he needed to be present for a no-confidence motion taking place in the country's parliament.

Solomon Islands' ties to China

The relationship between Solomon Islands and China has prompted concern in both Washington and Canberra, particularly after the two countries signed a secretive security pact last year.

Mr Sogavare attended last year's summit in Washington but initially resisted signing a joint declaration being issued between the US and Pacific Island leaders.

He has since visited China to meet President Xi Jinping, and last week told the UN General Assembly of his country's increasingly close ties to Beijing.

"Solomon Islands is grateful and appreciates the ongoing support from our bilateral and multilateral partners, in particular the People's Republic of China, who has become our leading infrastructure partner," he told the meeting.

Asked whether China had motivated increased engagement with the Pacific Islands, the Biden administration official appeared to agree that it had.

"No question that its [China's] assertiveness and influence, including in this region, has been a factor that requires us to sustain our strategic focus," they said.

"But what we're really focused on doing is showing our Pacific Island friends that the United States, working with like-minded partners, can provide viable alternatives that will work for Pacific Island nations."

China eager to grow its influence

In an example of Beijing's eagerness to expand its relations across the Pacific, a Chinese naval training ship docked in Papua New Guinea's capital today for a "goodwill" visit.

Arriving in Port Moresby for the second time since 2019, training ship Qi Jiguang and its 300 naval personnel will spend the next few days in Papua New Guinea.

Hundreds of people greeted the ship as it arrived in Port Moresby, waving both nations' flags.

Rear Admiral Zhu Jianda said while in Port Moresby, senior officers would hold meetings with their PNG counterparts.

"Those activities will enhance our mutual understanding, strengthen our mutual trust and deepen our friendship, which will be very helpful to build the maritime community of shared future for us," Rear Admiral Zhu said

"China and the Papua New Guinea are good friends, good partners and good brothers.

"I believe this visit will start a new chapter of friendly exchanges between us."

PNG Defence Minister Win Bakri Daki gave the visiting crew a warm welcome.

"In military space, Papua New Guinea acknowledges that China's providing the military trainings to our defence officers," he said.

He thanked China for bringing the ship to PNG "and developing infrastructures, economic, you're helping so much, thank you so much".

Last year, China committed to funding the construction of a military hospital at Port Moresby's Taurama Barracks.

China's ambassador to PNG, Zeng Fanhua, said he believed the two nations' "political mutual trust has been consolidated".

US formalises new diplomatic relationships

The White House used the Pacific Islands summit to announce it had formally begun recognising Cook Islands and Niue as "sovereign and independent" states, meaning diplomatic relations will begin with both.

"These milestones celebrate areas of change, and demonstrate that with unshakeable resolve and leadership, remarkable achievements are possible," said Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown.

He also urged the United States to "actively engage" at the highest level, pointing to an upcoming forum meeting in Rarotonga, Cook Islands in November.

"Engagement cannot be restricted to annual summits," Mr Brown said.

"It must be year-long efforts, working to an agreed plan of action and supported by requisite resources to deliver transformative action on the ground."

The US is also promising nearly $US200 million ($311 million) for new projects and activities, including undersea cables to improve internet connectivity in the region.

"Our objective is to build a better world, one of the great opportunities for security, prosperity and dignity for all our people, no matter where they live," Mr Biden told leaders.

"That starts by building stronger partnerships with each other."

The Pacific Islands leaders stopped in Baltimore on their way to Washington, attending an American football game and visiting a Coast Guard facility.

They are also expected to attend a roundtable focused on climate change, and meet Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen before wrapping up their visit.

By North America bureau chief Jade Macmillan and PNG correspondent Tim Swanston

Original article link:

fijivillage Straight Talk with Vijay Narayan
Latest Videos

Stay tuned for the latest news on our radio stations

CFL radio frequencies
More officers needed in Lami, 3 Police Posts with 63 officers serving more than 30,000 people - Naisoro
More officers are needed in Lami as the former Chair of Lami District Council of Social Services, Asaeli Naisoro says they have only 3 Police Posts wi...
3 hours ago
Flooding of low lying areas expected in Suva, Nausori, Navua, Tailevu, Naitasiri, Ra, the North and other areas
Please be prepared as flash flooding in low lying areas in Suva, Nausori, Serua to Namosi including Navua, Tailevu, Naitasiri, Ra, Beqa, Vatulele, ...
3 hours ago

Four in court over Blenheim Palace gold toilet theft
Four men have appeared in court charged over the theft of an 18-carat gold toilet from Blenheim Palace. The USD$6M lavatory was stolen from the ...
4 hours ago

5-year-old and 1-year-old receive gifts of life from Sai Sanjeevani Children's Heart Hospital
5-year-old Inisevoli Navakavua and 1-year-old Laala Kiseli received a new gift of life from the Sai Sanjeevani Children's Heart Hospital. Poate ...
4 hours ago

Dr Qereqeretabua and Dr Ahmed to appear on fijivillage Straight Talk With Vijay Narayan at 7 tonight
The General Surgeon at Colonial War Memorial Hospital, Doctor Timoci Qereqeretabua and Principal Medical Officer at the National Diabetes Centre, ...
4 hours ago

Vashist Muni College students assisted by Navua couple across flooded area to sit for Year 12 exam
Despite the heavy rain and flooding in Navua this morning, a couple took the initiative and offered to transport Year 12 students of Vashist Muni ...
18 hours ago
PM’s motion passed to reduce overseas travel allowances for the PM, Ministers, Assistant Ministers, Leader of Opposition and MPs
Parliament has passed the Prime Minister’s motion to reduce the rates payable for overseas travelling allowances for the Prime Minister, Cabinet ...
7 days ago

CEO of the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission, Joel Abraham appears on fijivillage Straight Talk With Vijay Narayan
CEO of the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission, Joel Abraham appears on fijivillage Straight Talk With Vijay ...
13 days ago

HIV infections in Fiji increased 260% since 2010, making Fiji the second fastest-growing epidemic in the Asia Pacific region
Speaker of Parliament and UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador for the Pacific Region, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau says according to the Global AIDS Monitoring Report, Fiji is in the top 5 countries of rising new HIV infections in the Asia Pacific region amongst the 15 t
17 days ago