‘Australia PM visit timely’

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. PHOTO - AFP.
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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. PHOTO – AFP.

THE visit of Australia Prime Minister, Scott Morrison to Honiara this Sunday is timely after his re-election last week.

A senior officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade said he thinks the visit is a timely one considering Australia just had an election just like Solomon Islands.

“We have become one of Australia’s important friends and so a visit to Solomon Islands as first foreign visit is a semblance of the importance/significance of our relationship.

“A good sign for us and we must play it strategically for mutual benefits,” the official said.

However, Australia media claim Morrison’s first visit to the Solomon Islands comes at the back of China growing influence in the country.

United States of America do not want to see China exerts its influence in the Pacific.

Solomon Islands has a strong diplomatic tie with Republic of China (Taiwan) since 1983.

However, two blocks within the government, Malaita and Guadalcanal members urged Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to sever its relation with Taiwan and switch to China.

They gave a six months ultimatum for Sogavare to meet their demands or face a motion of no confidence.

However, senior officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade thinks the media is driving the China/Taiwan issue.

The official said even if the issue will be discussed with the Australia Prime Minister, the choice will always be with Solomon Islands.

“Friends can only share thoughts.

“Our strategic importance will be the drawcard for a visit apart from important cooperation programmes that we have,” official said.

Australia is the largest provider of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Solomon Islands, providing almost two thirds of overseas aid in 2016-17.

In 2019-20, total Australian ODA to Solomon Islands will be an estimated $174.4 million. Of this, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) will manage an estimated $122.3 million in bilateral funding.