Nanaia Mahuta says she expects to visit Solomon Islands 'soon'

Source: 1News

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta says she hopes to visit the Solomon Islands in the "coming weeks" amid China's attempts to grow its influence in the Pacific region.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta appears on Q+A.

Mahuta has addressed China’s latest push for influence in the region, with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi on an eight-nation tour.

In March, the draft of a security deal between China and the Solomon Islands was leaked. That deal was formally signed in April.

And last week, a draft deal was leaked, showing China wants a broad economic and security pact with 10 more Pacific nations including Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.

Yi and a 20-strong delegation arrived in the Solomon Islands on Thursday at the start of the tour. On Monday he was to meet Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

Mahuta told 1News she has had a "great" bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Jeremiah Manele, and the pair identified what the regional issues are and agreed to meet in the coming weeks.

On Monday Mahuta said she would arrange to travel to the Solomon Islands as soon as her counterpart Manele could organise their diaries.

"I'm hopeful it will be very soon, like within the next coming weeks," she told 1News.

READ MORE: New focus on NZ’s security policy needed – China expert

"We're concerned to the extent that, as I said previously in relation to the Solomon's agreement, if that lead to the militarisation of Honiara, that would be absolutely concerning, We don't see a need for it, we've had an assurance from Prime Minister Sogavare in a very public way that that's not the intent of the agreement, and we will hold the prime Minister to his word around those matters," she said.

"But again, any type of agreement that may have an impact on our regional security issues, should be a matter that is discussed at the Pacific Island Forum and when I attend, I'm sure that will be on the agenda.

National's Gerry Brownlee said earlier today Mahuta had been slow to react, when the Australian Foreign Minister had been to Fiji within days of being appointed.

“While our traditional partners are out engaging with the region and demonstrating their ability to meet all the needs of the Pacific, Minister Mahuta and this Government have gone radio silent. No media, no visible engagement, not even a tweet."

Mahuta denied the Government had been slow to react.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has urged China to be transparent as it sends the high-level delegation through the "contested" Pacific.

Speaking from New York City last week, she urged China to be upfront with its engagement and what it is seeking to achieve.

"I don't think (the Chinese delegation's tour) is necessarily a surprise," she said.

READ MORE: China's foreign minister starts Pacific tour in the Solomons

"We've seen recently the United States seeking to engage with the Pacific. It is a contested region.

"We will be consistent, regardless of who is in our region and engaging with the members of it.

"Values of transparency, openness and peace and stability ... is what we are advocates for."