Pacific visit: Winston Peters leads political delegation to Solomon Islands, Nauru and Niue

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters is off to Solomon Islands today and will meet with newly elected Prime Minister Jeremiah Manele for the second time.

Solomon Islands has been a key point of Pacific geopolitics since the nation switched alliance from Taiwan to China in 2019.

Peters’ second trip there is one of many high-level delegations Menele has received since taking the reins in May].

Manele, the former foreign minister, has been seen by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Washington’s Papua New Guinea-based ambassador, China’s special envoy to the Pacific and Japan’s ambassador to the Pacific.

Manele has also gone to Australia where he met with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Jeremiah Manele meet in Honiara on 12 May 2024.

‘Influence of the geopolitical competition’

University of Hawai’i’s Center for Pacific Islands Studies associate professor Tarcisius Kabutaulaka said part of the reason for the visitors is just standard affair when a new leader is elected, but it was also because Solomon Islands has been the centre of geopolitical competition since the switch.

Solomon Islands previous prime minister Manasseh Sogavare had to some extent “anti-Western rhetoric” during his term in office, Kabutaulaka said.

“They’re coming in and trying to establish relationship with this new leader who they think will be different.

“If not in the substance from its policies but at least in the nature of its diplomacy. So to a certain extent what we are seeing in Solomon Islands is an influence of the geopolitical competition.

“I think Solomon Islands and China will continue to have that relationship, what will be different though is the way in which that diplomatic relationship is carried out by Manele.

I don’t know what the word is, but perhaps [Manele will be] much more careful in his diplomatic relationships, not only with China, but with other countries as well.”

After the Solomon Islands Winston Peters will go to Nauru on Wednesday and Niue on Thursday.

Pacific relations ‘fundamental’

Peters in a statement said “major regional issues” and “urgent development and strategic challenges in the region” will be on the agenda including the unrest in New Caledonia.

“New Zealand’s relationships in the Pacific are fundamental to our foreign policy, and we are determined to continue strengthening them,” he said.

Peters is taking a broad political delegation including Minster Casey Costello, Chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee Tim van de Molen as well as opposition members, Damien O’Connor and Jenny Salesa from Labour and Green MP Teanau Tuiono.

“There is deep interest in and commitment to the Pacific across our Cabinet and our Parliament,” Peters said in the statement.

In Nauru, Peters has bilateral meetings with President Adeang and foreign minister Aingimea.

Nauru – one of the world’s smallest independent states 42 kilometres south of the equator – now has almost 100 asylum seekers being held in Australia’s offshore processing centres after dropping to zero in June last year.

In September 2023, people were first transferred to Nauru again.

The nation also switched ties with Taiwan in favour of China immediately after Taiwan’s presidential election.

Its former president, Baron Waqa started his tenure as the new secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum last month.

Peters is visiting Niue off the back of New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon announcing a $20 million investment.

While there, he will lead a ground-breaking ceremony for the energy investment.

Peters will also have a bilateral meeting with Premier Dalton Tagelagi.

Niue is celebrating 50-years of free association with New Zealand this year.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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