Solomon Islands tells Australia it will review security

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia's Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Tuesday Solomon Islands' newly elected Prime Minister Jeremiah Manele had told him the Pacific Island nation is undertaking a security review that will determine the future of policing cooperation.

A security pact struck with China in 2022 by the previous pro-Beijing leader Manasseh Sogavare, who encouraged Chinese infrastructure projects, alarmed Canberra and Washington amid concern over China's naval ambitions in the region.

The Solomon Islands' biggest aid donor, Australia provided policing support for national elections in April. China also has a policing presence on the archipelago, strategically located 1,600 km (990 miles) northeast of Australia.

The Solomon Islands is a critically important relationship for Australia and a new government gives an opportunity for a new partnership, Marles told reporters on a one-day visit to Honiara.

"Prime Minister Manele made clear to me that the Solomon Islands government is going through a security review. We obviously will watch that with great interest and we await the outcome of that," Marles told reporters, according to a transcript.

The review will "inform both governments" in terms of the Australian police presence in Solomon Islands, which has a long history, and whether or not the island nation holds ambitions to form a military, he said.

Australia has provided extra budget support of A$7 million ($4.7 million), and is in further talks, the Solomon Islands government said in a statement.

"Australia remains Solomon Islands' partner of choice and I want to see our relationship grow to new heights during my tenure as prime minister," Manele had told Marles, according to the statement.

"I am ready to discuss the possibility of much, much larger bilateral co-operation partnerships to fast-track transformational undertakings," Manele said.

Such steps would hasten Solomon Islands' efforts to achieve economic, social and security goals, he added.

($1=1.5029 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Lincoln Feast.)