Australia revamps Pacific strategy to reach out to countries as China looms

Leroy Wright
November 11, 2018

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne is scheduled to meet her Chinese counterpart in Beijing today, the first visit by a senior Canberra in two years after bilateral relations soured. Although sparsely populated, Pacific island nations have resource-rich ocean zones.

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.

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

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday also detailed plans for greater military and diplomatic engagement with Australia's island neighbours who are increasing looking to China for aid through the country's One Belt One Road infrastructure program. "This is our part of the world".

The Australian government has banned Chinese telecom firms Huawei and ZTE from running 5G technology in the country.

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

The Australian Defense Force would also establish an Australia-based Pacific Mobile Training Teams that would visit island neighbors to train their militaries in humanitarian and disaster responses, peacekeeping and infantry skills.

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In a statement , Victoria Police said a man was arrested at the scene and taken to hospital in critical condition. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Australians will "never be intimidated by these appalling attacks".

Another AU$1 billion will be injected into Australia's export credit agency.

The government on Wednesday rejected CK Group's A$13 billion (RM39.1 billion) bid for gas pipeline operator APA Group on national security concerns, a decision that has the potential to further inflame diplomatic tensions.

China has spent US$1.3 billion (RM5.4 billion) on concessional loans and gifts since 2011 to become the Pacific's second-largest donor after Australia, stoking concern in the West that several tiny nations could end up overburdened and in debt to Beijing.

"China is firmly against terrorism, and will take strict precautions against the spread of terrorism domestically", Wang said.

The first round of tariff reductions between the two countries took effect nearly three years ago, Wang said at a press conference after the meeting, before adding that China had never adopted a unilateral protectionist policy in terms of trade.

Notably, Wang mentioned that China appreciates Australia for "its support for and active engagement" in the first China International Import Expo held in Shanghai - an event Chinese top authorities created to "bolster China's image as an open market".

In what's seen as a counter, Australia announced plans to develop a joint naval base with Papua New Guinea on Manus Island.

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