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China's foreign minister starts Pacific tour in the Solomons

FILE - Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi talks during a ceremony to mark the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Solomon Islands and Chin...
FILE - Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, left, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, right, shake hands at a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the ...
FILE - Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele, left, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi talk during a ceremony to mark the establishment o...
FILE - A woman crosses the street near a billboard commemorating the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, No...
FILE - Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall Of The Peo...
FILE - Fiji's Prime Minister Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, top left, talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, top right, during a signing ceremony b...
FILE - Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau, left, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pose for a photo before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in B...
FILE - A display case of photos is seen outside the Chinese Embassy in Honiara, Solomon Islands, April 2, 2022. China wants 10 small Pacific nations t...
The Chinese flags flies at their embassy in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, Monday April 8, 2019. China wants 10 small Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreem...
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, center, is escorted from his plane on his arrival in Honiara, Solomon Islands, early Thursday, May 26, 2022. Wang an...
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, second left, is met by Solomon Islands government ministers on his arrival in Honiara, Solomon Islands, early Thursd...
In this image taken from video, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong speaks during a keynote address at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Thurs...
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, and his counterpart from the Solomon Islands, Jeremiah Manele hold a joint press conference in Honiara, Solomo...
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, and his counterpart from the Solomon Islands, Jeremiah Manele hold a joint news conference in Honiara, Solomon...
Australia's Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong, left, is welcomed by Secretary-General Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Henry Puna during her visit ...
Australia's Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong speaks in Suva, Fiji, Thursday, May 26, 2022. Wong says it was up to each island nation to decide what...

FILE - Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi talks during a ceremony to mark the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Solomon Islands and Chin...

FILE - Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, left, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, right, shake hands at a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the ...

FILE - Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele, left, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi talk during a ceremony to mark the establishment o...

FILE - A woman crosses the street near a billboard commemorating the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, No...

FILE - Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall Of The Peo...

FILE - Fiji's Prime Minister Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, top left, talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, top right, during a signing ceremony b...

FILE - Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau, left, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pose for a photo before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in B...

FILE - A display case of photos is seen outside the Chinese Embassy in Honiara, Solomon Islands, April 2, 2022. China wants 10 small Pacific nations t...

The Chinese flags flies at their embassy in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, Monday April 8, 2019. China wants 10 small Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreem...

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, center, is escorted from his plane on his arrival in Honiara, Solomon Islands, early Thursday, May 26, 2022. Wang an...

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, second left, is met by Solomon Islands government ministers on his arrival in Honiara, Solomon Islands, early Thursd...

In this image taken from video, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong speaks during a keynote address at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Thurs...

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, and his counterpart from the Solomon Islands, Jeremiah Manele hold a joint press conference in Honiara, Solomo...

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, and his counterpart from the Solomon Islands, Jeremiah Manele hold a joint news conference in Honiara, Solomon...

Australia's Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong, left, is welcomed by Secretary-General Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Henry Puna during her visit ...

Australia's Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong speaks in Suva, Fiji, Thursday, May 26, 2022. Wong says it was up to each island nation to decide what...

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and a 20-strong delegation arrived in the Solomon Islands Thursday at the start of an eight-nation tour that comes amid growing concerns about Beijing’s military and financial ambitions in the South Pacific region.

China says the trip builds on a long history of friendly relations between Beijing and the island nations.

But Australia scrambled to counter the move by sending its own Foreign Minister Penny Wong to Fiji to shore up support in the Pacific. Wong had been on the job just five days following an Australian election and had just arrived back Wednesday night from a meeting in Tokyo.

In Fiji, Wong said it was up to each island nation to decide what partnerships they formed and what agreements they signed, but urged them to consider the benefits of sticking with Australia.

“Australia will be a partner that doesn’t come with strings attached nor imposing unsustainable financial burdens," Wong said. “We are a partner that won’t erode Pacific priorities or Pacific institutions.”

Meanwhile, the Media Association of Solomon Islands called on its members to boycott a news conference in the capital, Honiara, held by Wang and his counterpart from the Solomon Islands, Jeremiah Manele, following a meeting between the pair.

That's because only selected media were invited to the event, and the schedule allowed for just a single question to be asked of Wang by China's state-owned broadcaster CCTV.

“Its a tough call to make regarding the media boycott for the press event on Thursday,” wrote association president Georgina Kekea on Twitter. “Our protest is for our govt to see our disappointment. They have failed us & they failed to protect #democracy.”

According to an official Chinese summary of the meeting, Wang told his counterpart that China would firmly support the Solomon Islands in its efforts to maintain national security and territorial integrity, while Manele described the visit as historic and a “milestone in the relations” between the two countries.

China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands last month in a move that sent shock waves around the world.

That pact has raised fears that China could send troops to the island nation or even establish a military base there, not far from Australia. The Solomon Islands and China say there are no plans for a base.

In another move by China, a draft document obtained by The Associated Press shows that Wang is hoping to strike a deal with 10 small Pacific nations during his visit. The sweeping agreement covers everything from security to fisheries and is seen by at least one Pacific leader as an attempt by Beijing to wrest control of the region.

Wang is hoping the countries will endorse the pre-written agreement as part of a joint communique after a May 30 meeting in Fiji with the other foreign ministers.

During his 10-day visit, Wang is also planning to make stops in Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.

Earlier, Australia's new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he'd sent Wong to Fiji because Australia needed to “step up" its efforts in the Pacific.

“We need to respond to this because this is China seeking to increase its influence in the region of the world where Australia has been the security partner of choice since the Second World War,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that in recent years, exchanges and cooperation between Beijing and the island nations had been expanding in a development that was welcomed by the Pacific countries.