Solomon Islands leader to travel to Australia on fence-mending visit

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

SYDNEY, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare will visit Australia on Thursday as both countries look to mend ties which soured after the Pacific nation struck a security pact with China in April.

The agreement raised concern for the United States and Australia, who have for decades seen the Pacific region as largely their sphere of influence.

"Our relationship with Solomon Islands is incredibly important," Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in a statement.

"I look forward to engaging with Prime Minister Sogavare on building a strong and prosperous Pacific region, based on principles of transparency, respect and partnership."

Both leaders last met in July at the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji.

Australia is the Solomon Islands' largest development partner in health, justice, education, infrastructure and other areas. But an offer by Canberra to fund the Pacific island's next election led Solomon Islands last month to accuse Australia of "interference".

The bilateral meeting also comes days after U.S. President Joe Biden and 14 Pacific island states issued a joint declaration to strengthen their partnership amid Washington's offer of hundreds of millions in new aid for the region.

Solomon Islands endorsed the document after earlier indicating it would not sign the declaration.

Reporting by Lewis Jackson; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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