© Reuters. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi poses for a photo before meeting US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome on October 31, 2021. Tiziana Fabi/Paul via Reuters/File Photo

SYDNEY (Reuters) – China’s foreign minister on Saturday signed a deal with Samoa to boost diplomatic ties, while the new Australian leader said he had a “comprehensive plan” for the Pacific while Beijing and Canberra continued their rival campaign to capture the region’s court.

China is building a recently signed security pact with the Solomon Islands, which has alarmed the United States and allies such as Australia over fears of an increased military presence from Beijing. Australia’s new center-left government made the Pacific islands a diplomatic priority early on.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who was sworn in on Monday, said his Labor government’s plan includes a defense school, support for safety at sea, increased aid, and a renewed commitment to climate change.

“We will act proactively in the region and we want to participate,” he told reporters.

China’s Wang Yi, on a voyage across the Pacific in search of a 10-nation agreement on security and trade, ended a visit to Samoa, where he met Prime Minister Fiami Naomi Matava and signed documents including an “Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement”. Samoa said in a statement https://www.samoagovt.ws/2022/05/press-release-samoa-visit-of-the-state-councilor-and-foreign-minister-of-the-peoples-republic-of- china-he-mr-wang-yi-27-28-May-2022.

“Samoa and the People’s Republic of China will continue to seek closer cooperation that meets common interests and obligations,” she said.

Also on Saturday, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said he had a “fantastic meeting” with Australian Penny Wong, who visited days after taking office to show the new government’s interest in the Pacific islands.

“Fiji isn’t anyone’s backyard – we’re part of the Pacific family,” Bainimarama wrote on Twitter (NYSE :), posting a photo of her and Benny Wong shaking hands.

Bainimarama appeared to throw a veiled criticism at Scott Morrison, the conservative prime minister who was ousted in last weekend’s election and once described the Pacific as Australia’s “backyard”.

Climate change, which Pacific Island nations view as an existential threat, was a major issue in the election.

Australia’s Wong said Canberra will be an unfettered partner, while China’s Wang expressed hope that Beijing’s ties with the Solomon Islands will serve as a regional model.

Wang was on his way to Fiji, where he is expected to push for the regional agreement at a meeting he will host on Monday.