Pacific Islands can build ties with China, they're independent nations - Henare

By Kelvin McDonald

Pacific Island countries are sovereign nations capable of making their own decisions about cooperation arrangements with China, Defence Minister Peeni Henare has told media in Singapore.

"Our job is to support them, to make sure they make strong decisions for themselves," Newshub says Henare told Reuters.

"We will continue to maintain that policy. We can't be paternalistic."

Henare is at Asia's top defence meeting, Shangri-La Dialogue.

He said he met with China's Defence Minister Wei Fenghe this week.

"My point to them was very clear, that we support independence. We support sovereign nations and sovereign states, like the many in the Pacific."

China emphasised its intentions are positive, he said.

"In our dialogue with them, they were pushing that they... come in peace, that they want to look towards security and sustainability, prosperity across the Pacific."

The US and its allies have raised concerns about China's efforts to grow its influence in the Pacific, including recently signing a security agreement with the Solomon Islands.

"It's not by coincidence that I met with China to make sure we can hear each other out and be very direct," said Henare.

"Open dialogue" is key, he said.