Australia is looking to boost its economic relationship with the Solomon Islands amid concerns about the Pacific nation drifting closer to China.
Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres used a speech at a bilateral business forum to outline Australia’s plan to make the Pacific more economically independent.
Senator Ayres says it will not only help the region’s security, but is in line with Australia’s moral duty.
“Economic growth and development are crucial to the stability, security and prosperity of the Pacific,” he said during his keynote address in Brisbane.
“But sitting stalwartly alongside the national security argument is the moral argument.”
Twenty-two of Australia’s 26 nearest neighbours are developing countries.
“We have a moral obligation to act responsibly to help grow economic opportunity for the region while at the same time respecting the sovereignty of our neighbours,” Senator Ayres said.
The assistant minister says while co-operation between the two nations is strong, there’s room to deepen the relationship.
Around 5000 Solomon Islanders are working in Australia under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, with the workers sending an average of $A2.7 million back home every month.
“It is also true that governments have a vital role in driving economic growth and development that is consistent with our national and regional interests,” Senator Ayres said.
“We’re providing more and more Solomon Islanders with the skills they need to set up business and make products on shore.”
His speech also reiterated that Australia remains the Solomons’ primary security partner after regional tensions heightened when Honiara signed a security pact with Beijing.
“Australia values our position as Solomon Islands’ security and development partner of choice,” Senator Ayres said.
Senator Ayres says private investment is necessary to continue developing the relationship between the two nations.
“The Australian government sees Solomon Islands as a long-term partner and I know the Australian business sector does too.
“The opportunities are there waiting to be seized but can only be realised if we listen deeply and act co-operatively on our shared interests and values.”
(Australian Associated Press)