China's Wang Yi arrives in Solomon Islands amid South Pacific tensions

China's Wang Yi arrives in Solomon Islands amid South Pacific tensions

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi and a 20-strong delegation arrived in the Solomon Islands on Thursday at the beginning of an eight-nation tour that comes amid growing concerns about Beijing's military and financial ambitions in the South Pacific region.

Australia was attempting to counter the move by sending its foreign minister, Penny Wong, to Fiji to shore up support in the Pacific. Wong arrived on the job just five days after an Australian election and had just arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday night.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that this is a need to respond because China is trying to increase its influence in the region where Australia has been the security partner of choice since World War II.

The Media Association of Solomon Islands has called for its members to boycott a news conference held in the capital, Honiara, by Wang and his counterpart from the Solomon Islands, Jeremiah Manele.

Only selected media were invited to the event, and the schedule allowed for just one question to be asked by Wang by China's state-owned broadcaster CCTV.

Georgina Kekea, association president, wrote on Twitter that it was a tough call to make regarding the media boycott for the press event on Thursday. Our govt has to see our disappointment. They failed us and failed to protect democracy. In a move that sent shock waves around the world, China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands last month.

That pact has raised fears that China could send troops to the island nation or even establish a military base there, not far from Australia. There are no plans for a base in the Solomon Islands and China.

Wang is hoping to reach a deal with 10 small Pacific nations during his visit, according to a draft document obtained by The Associated Press. The sweeping agreement covers everything from security to fisheries.

The Chinese government hasn't commented on its authenticity and NBC News hasn't seen the document.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a news conference on Wednesday that China and the countries of the South Pacific are good friends and good partners pursuing common development on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit. He said that he does not agree with the argument that cooperation between China and the South Pacific island countries will cause a new Cold War.

Wang Yi is also planning to make stops in Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor during his 10 day visit.