Solomons-New Zealand meeting ‘significant’ – Pacific security expert

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Solomon Islands says consultation between Pacific nations could be improved, ahead of a foreign affairs bilateral meeting in New Zealand.

The Solomons’ Foreign Affairs Minister Jeremiah Manele will sit down with his Aotearoa counterpart Nanaia Mahuta in Wellington today.

Pacific Security expert Anna Powles said Mahuta would be looking to solidify bilateral relations between the two nations after intense geopolitical scrutiny over the Solomons-Beijing security pact.

“There’ll certainly be a sense that New Zealand needs to ensure it has strong, robust and open channels of communication with the Solomon Islands going forward in the relationship,” Powles said.

News of a draft security agreement between China and Solomon Islands caught the New Zealand government by surprise in March.

Speaking at Te Herenga Waka (Victoria University of Wellington)’s law school last night, Manele reiterated the Solomon Islands’ “friends to all, enemies to none” policy.

“We work with any partner that gives us a fair go,” he said.

However, he did say consultation in the Pacific region could be improved.

“I think there is room and space to further enhance our bilateral consultations… not only at officials level but also at the ministerial level.”

Manele added while regional frameworks, like the annual Pacific Islands Forum, facilitated consultation, it was important sovereign nations could make independent decisions.

“Of course while there are regional frameworks for consultation, flexibility must also be there for sovereign states to also consult and pursue their interests as they see fit.”

The United States has made concerted efforts to counter China’s influence in the Pacific in recent months.

Last week, leaders of 14 Pacific nations were hosted at a historic U.S-Pacific Summit in Washington for two days of talks and a dinner at the White House.

Manele said Solomon Islands welcomed America’s renewed interest and engagement in the Pacific region, including an 11-part partnership declaration it signed.

“We look forward to the implementation of that arrangement and the commitments that have been made by the US in terms of its interest and engagement in the region.”

Manele said the Solomons would continue to deal with its economic challenges, fast-growing youth population and security issues through a “development lens”.

He said he “remained determined” to increase the number of people allowed to work in New Zealand through the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme to aid its recovery from the pandemic.

“We have lost a lot of ground due to Covid-19. Part of my visit is to promote Solomon Islands’ ‘here to work’ brand and ask employers in New Zealand to look our way,” he said.

SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS