China signs deal with Samoa during Pacific trip watched closely by U.S. officials

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May 28 (UPI) — Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Samoa on Saturday as part of a tour to strengthen trade and security ties with Pacific nations, likely watched closely by officials in the United States.

During the trip, Wang Yi and Samoan leaders signed an economic and technical cooperation agreement, a handover certificate for an arts and culture center and the Samoa-China Friendship Park, and an exchange of letters for a police fingerprint laboratory, according to a Samoan news release.

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Samoa is an island nation 40 miles west of American Samoa, a U.S. territory that consistently enlists a large number of soldiers per capita and is home to U.S. military installations. The U.S. Army has noted that the territory “historically played a pivotal role in the security of the Pacific.”

Wang Yi’s visit to Samoa came after previous stops in Kiribati and the Solomon Islands. A spokesman for Wang Yi said at a news conference that China will provide the Solomon Islands with police supplies and send police advisers “to help maintain social security after the rioting took place in Honiara.”

“The South Pacific region should be a stage for cooperation, rather than an arena for vicious competition. China’s cooperation with [Pacific Island countries] doesn’t target any country, nor will it be disrupted by any country,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

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“At the same time, we respect the various ties that [Pacific Island countries] have established with other countries, and are open-minded about carrying out more tripartite cooperation with other countries inside and outside the region.”

Anthony Albanese, Australia’s new prime minister who was sworn in on Monday, was asked by reporters during a news conference Saturday to respond to whether China’s consideration of building a police training center in Honiara was concerning to Australia.

“Australia has put forward a comprehensive plan, my government, for the Pacific. That includes an Australia Pacific defense training school. It includes increased support for maritime security. It includes an increase in our aid budget of over half a billion dollars,” Albanese said.

He added that his government’s plan includes “re-engaging on climate change” and “more permanent migration from Pacific Island countries to Australia.”

“I intend to attend the Pacific Island Forum meeting myself. We will engage. We’ve known that there have been issues in the Pacific for some time. And the former government’s response was to send a very junior representative after the deals had been done,” Albanese said.

“We will be proactive in the region. We want to engage. Australia has been the partner of choice for a long period of time in the Pacific. And we intend to continue to be that.”

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