Saturday, 15 December, 2018

China shuns rivalry in Pacific as Australia says ‘this is our patch’

PM lures Pacific with cash, troops and TV shows To counter China, Australia plans US$1.5 billion Pacific infrastructure fund
Deanna Wagner | 11 November, 2018, 03:33

Morrison's government has been preoccupied by domestic infighting and has diverged politically from Pacific Island nations threatened by rising waters, by questioning climate change.Australia has always been a major political player in much of the south and west Pacific, but has lost ground with China ploughing massive investment into the region as part of its "Belt and Road" initiative.His announcement comes as Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne visited Beijing, the first time someone in her position has visited in three years, and just after Australia blocked a bid of more than Dollars 9 billion from Hong Kong giant CK Group for the country's biggest gas pipeline company.

The move comes as Australia and China vie for influence in the Pacific.

Australian public broadcaster ABC News said centerpiece of the new Australian prime minister's thinking would be a 2 billion Australian dollar (€1.3 billion) infrastructure bank for the Pacific.

Australian will also put diplomats in all 18 countries in the Pacific Islands Forum, with new embassies planned in Palau, Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Nui and Cook Islands.

"Australia's national security and that of the Pacific are intertwined", Mr Morrison will say at the Army's Lavarack Barracks.

Foreign policy analysts told Reuters the new infrastructure fund will test Australia's already cool relations with China, its largest trading partner.

Morrison said Australia will create a A$2 billion infrastructure fund that will invest in telecommunications, energy, transport, water projects.

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Another AU$1 billion will be injected into Australia's export credit agency. "Australia needs more tools to engage with the Pacific", said Jonathan Pryke, a Pacific Islands foreign policy expert with the Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank.

Ties between the two countries have been strained since Australia accused China of meddling in its domestic affairs late previous year.

The two countries have endured turbulent ties following Canberra's introduction of laws late past year to curb foreign interference - measures that were seen as aimed at Beijing.

The timing of Morrison's announcement is potentially awkward for Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who held talks yesterday with counterpart Wang Yi.

While the Pacific has traditionally been seen as Australia's diplomatic turf and is the biggest recipient of foreign aid from Canberra, China has been increasing loans to small, indebted Pacific island nations.

Earlier this month, Australia said it would help PNG develop a naval base, beating out China as a possible partner for the port development.

In May, Australia said it would spend about A$200 million to develop an undersea internet cables to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Solomon Islands amid national security concerns about China's Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.