'I need a hug': Anthony Albanese, Solomons leader embrace at first meeting

Tensions between Australia and Solomon Islands have flared since a controversial security pact was signed, but they weren't on display when the two leaders met.

Composite image of Albanese and Sogavare hugging and shaking hands

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hugs his Solomon Islands' counterpart Manasseh Sogavare amid strained tensions between the two nations. Source: Supplied

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his Solomon Islands counterpart Manasseh Sogavare embraced as they met for the first time since the inking of a controversial security pact.

Mr Sogavare met Mr Albanese and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in separate bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji on Wednesday.

Both Mr Albanese and Ms Ardern have previously raised concerns about , with fears Beijing could seek to .

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China says , and Mr Sogavare says his government has no intention of allowing a base to be established.

But tensions weren't on display when Mr Sogavare and Mr Albanese met, with the Solomon Islands' leader saying, "I need a hug" after Mr Albanese welcomed him.

He told Mr Sogavare there was more Australia and Solomon Islands could do to develop "relationships of trust and mutual understanding" of joint benefit.
In response, Mr Sogavare said there was a friendship between the countries that continued to grow stronger.

"We are family; there are maybe issues, and that makes families stronger," Mr Sogavare said.

At the height of the diplomatic spat, - but Mr Albanese earlier said the meeting would be cordial.

"I'll be honest with them. I'll develop a relationship of trust with them, and that means not necessarily agreeing with them the whole time but being able to have an open dialogue," he said.

As well as Solomon Islands, Mr Albanese also held bilateral meetings with leaders from Fiji, Samoa, and the Federated States of Micronesia on Wednesday afternoon.

Ahead of these, he said Australia's support for the Pacific "does not come with strings attached".

With Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, Mr Albanese launched a $83 million joint defence facility in Lami, near Suva.

The Maritime Essential Services Centre will house Fiji navy headquarters, bolster naval capabilities and natural disaster response.

Anthony Albanese backs permanent migration pathways for temporary workers

Also on Wednesday, Mr Albanese indicated support for increasing permanent migration pathways for foreign workers in Australia, saying leaving people as temporary migrants for extended periods of time is "not in the interests of individuals" or the nation.

He made the comments after landing in Suva where he also flagged plans to expand engagement of Pacific labour in Australia.

"The idea that people should just be temporary migrants for a long period of time is ... in my view, not in the interests of individuals but also not of our nation," he said.

"I want people in Australia to have that sense of ownership, I want them to be citizens, to be able to participate in all forms of Australian life."

Kamala Harris announces new investments and embassies

Earlier on Wednesday, United States Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the forum via a videolink, announcing new embassies in Kiribati and Tonga, a renegotiated South Pacific Tuna Treaty worth $US600 million (A$884 million) to the region and a new US Pacific strategy.

The address was a rare honour given to a greater power, afforded to the US by Fiji as chair, and supported by Australia.

The red-carpet treatment for the US contrasts with China, which was shut out of the summit.

Both nations are battling for influence in the increasingly important region.
People watch a woman who is speaking on a screen.
US Vice President Kamala Harris was beamed into the Pacific Islands Forum where she announced the US would bolster its presence in the Pacific. Source: AAP / Ben McKay
When SBS News political correspondent Shuba Krishnan questioned Mr Albanese about involvement in the US address and how he expected China to react, he credited Fiji Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama.

"I give him credit for ensuring that the Vice-President of the United States a very significant figure, has been able to address this conference; that is something Australia supports," Mr Albanese said.

"(He) has done a remarkable job getting together the Suva agreement, to try to ensure that the nations of Micronesia are able to fully participate in the forum.

'What I bring to this forum is positive energy and I do all I can to bring nations who are members of the forum together ... that's what I want to see."

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4 min read
Published 13 July 2022 at 10:03am, updated 13 July 2022 at 8:56pm
Source: AAP, SBS