The prime minister of Solomon Islands has criticised Washington, saying the U.S must respect Pacific leaders, after Joe Biden pledged US$200m for the region in an effort widely seen as a push against China’s growing presence.
Biden hosted a group of Pacific leaders at a summit in Washington this week, after a similar meeting a year earlier.
The Solomon Islands prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, now closely aligned with Beijing, did not attend the White House talks, sending his foreign affairs minister, Jeremiah Manele, instead.
Speaking to local media in Honiara on Wednesday, Sogavare said the U.S must change its strategy when it came to meeting Pacific leaders and stop “lecturing” them.
“They must change their strategies of meeting with Pacific leaders. At least we have our representatives there. We were always given three minutes to talk and we would sit down only to listen to them lecturing us about how good they were,” he said.
His comments came as other leaders and former diplomats from the Pacific said the U.S was trying to make up for a long absence in the region.
A Biden administration official, who spoke on the condition they weren’t named, had said it was disappointing that Sogavare did not attend the summit
U.S interest in Pacific island nations was galvanised in early 2022 after Beijing and the Solomon Islands signed a security pact that the U.S and allies such as Australia fear could lead to a Chinese military presence in the region.
Since then the U.S has agreed to increase its financial and economic assistance for Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau – three North Pacific countries that delegate their defence to Washington under longstanding compacts of free association. Subject to budget appropriations, the three nations would receive more than U$7 billion over 20 years.
The first Pacific Islands-U.S summit in September last year announced plans for more than US$800 million in assistance to island nations over a decade. The figure included nearly tripling the payments tied to a tuna fishing treaty with Pacific nations to a total of US$600 million between 2023-2033.
Sogavare said his Cabinet will meet from Thursday to determine what bills to submit to parliament during the remainder of its sessions this year.
He said domestic affairs are more important for him as the Prime Minister than the summit.
“There are only 10 weeks left before parliament dissolves and we have many bills before parliament.
“These are issues that are more important to me as the Prime Minister of Solomon Islands than attending the summit,” the Prime Minister explained.
“I have a commitment and dedication to tackling domestic matters, especially with approximately 10 weeks remaining in the parliamentary calendar,” he said.
Under Sogavare, the Solomon Islands switched its diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 2019. His government has capitalised on the U.S-China rivalry by securing more development assistance for a country that grapples with lack of roads, hospitals and jobs.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN/SIBC/PACNEWS