Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles looks on during a...

Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles looks on during a welcome ceremony ahead of the Australia and South Korea Foreign and Defence Ministers meeting in Melbourne, Australia, May 1, 2024. Marles pledged support to the Solomon Islands during a visit to the archipelago nation on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, as Canberra intensifies efforts to counter China's growing influence in the South Pacific. Credit: AP/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake

NEWCASTLE, Australia — Australia's deputy prime minister pledged support to the Solomon Islands during a visit to the archipelago nation on Tuesday, as Canberra intensifies efforts to counter China's growing influence in the South Pacific.

Richard Marles’ trip to the capital, Honiara, was the first by an Australian government minister since Jeremiah Manele was elected Solomon Islands' new prime minister earlier this month.

Marles pledged to provide healthcare and border control support to the island nation and said at a news conference his visit provided an opportunity to discuss Solomons' “priorities and the way in which Australia can help and contribute.”

“Australia sought to be the Solomons’ go-to security partner and had to work to earn that right. Hence, going to Solomon Islands quickly,” said Marles, who is also Australia's defense minister.

Marles said Australia had pledged 50 million Australian dollars ($33.3 million) for border management and a health center for mothers to access pre- and post-natal care.

The high-level visit comes at a time of increased competition for influence in the South Pacific. The Solomons became the first regional nation to sign a major policing pact with China in July, sparking concern among the island’s traditional partners including Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Solomon Islands lawmakers elected Manele as prime minister on May 2. The move was largely seen as a sign the country will maintain close ties with China that were developed under pro-Beijing former leader Manasseh Sogavare.

Manele has indicated the pact would remain under his government and that as leader he would put his nation’s interests first.

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