On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison makes his first overseas trip since his upset victory in Australia’s general election earlier this month. His first stop will be in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.
In response to China’s growing influence in the region, Prime Minister Morrison announced what he called a Pacific “step up” last year including a multi-billion dollar bank to develop infrastructure.
While Australia remains the largest donor of foreign aid in the Pacific, Canberra’s emphasis up until now has been on governance. And it’s been China that constructed roads, ports and public buildings under its controversial “Belt and Road” project.
But last year, Australia elbowed China’s telecom giant Huawei out of a deal to lay an undersea internet cable to the Solomon Islands.
The Guardian Australia reports that a cable laying ship is en route from France and will start installing the cable next month. Australian troops also headed the international force that restored order in the Solomons and Canberra negotiated a defense agreement when the last soldiers left last year.
While the new infrastructure development bank is still in the works, Prime Minister Morrison is expected to discuss the Solomon Island’s priorities with his counterpart, Manassah Sogavare; he’s also expected to bolster the Solomon’s diplomatic ties to Taiwan.
China has been actively wooing politicians in the Solomons.
On a recent visit to Australia, U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs W Patrick Murphy denounced China’s policy of picking off Taiwan’s remaining allies as destabilizing and “kind of heavy-handed.”
From Honiara, Prime Minister Morrison goes on to London to participate in the ceremonies marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day.