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Solomon Islands prime minister says his visits to Australia and China focus on creating jobs

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The new prime minister of the Solomon Islands said Wednesday that his visits to Australia and China are focussed on creating jobs in the developing South Pacific island nation.

Prime Minister Jeremiah Manele met his counterpart Anthony Albanese in the Australian capital of Canberra, during his first overseas trip since being elected last month. Manele will next visit China, and then Japan.

“We are keen to work with all partners, with Australia and China, (on) how we can partner together to create transformational projects and programs in Solomon Islands that create jobs,” Manele said at a joint press conference with Albanese.

The Solomons is on the front line in competition between the United States and China for influence in the Pacific.

During the five-year term of Manele’s predecessor, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, China’s influence increased dramatically.

Sogavare switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing, and struck a secret security pact that has raised fears of the Chinese navy gaining a foothold in the region.

The election of Manele, Sogavare’s former foreign minister and chosen successor, suggests the country will continue to follow a similar direction.

Albanese said Australia provides economic support for its Pacific neighbors that has mutual benefits and is not transactional.