June 22, 2024

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manesseh Sogavare said he skipped a Pacific Islands leaders summit at the White House this week to avoid a “lecture” and because he had more pressing issues at home.

Sogavare, who has built close ties with China, held a press conference on Wednesday after arriving back in Solomon Islands from the United States, where he spoke at the United Nations but did not join other Pacific Island Forum leaders in Washington for a two-day summit.

U.S. President Joe Biden met the Pacific island leaders for a second White House summit in just over a year on Monday, part of a charm offensive aimed at curbing inroads by China into a region Washington considers strategically crucial.

Sogavare said he attended the first summit last year and “nothing came out of it”.

“They lecture you about how good they are”, he said, according to a video of the press conference published by Solomon Islands media company Tavuli News on Wednesday evening.

A Biden Administration official said on Sunday they were “disappointed” Sogavare would not attend.

Sogavare said he returned because there were 10 weeks left of parliament at home in Solomon Islands, which was more important.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said in a statement on Wednesday the summit had seen the U.S. make a significant pledge for infrastructure investment, and the meeting was a “significant step towards making the Pacific more secure and prosperous”.

Biden pledged to work with Congress to provide $200 million more in funding for projects in the region aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change, spurring economic growth, countering illegal fishing and improving public health.

At the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sogavare had praised China’s development cooperation as “less restrictive”.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

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