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It's all about China: PM races to maintain Pacific influence with aid, security

Politics

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wants Australia to be the main security partner for Pacific nations, amid revelations China wants to broker deals that would see it train local law enforcement agencies across the region.

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Foreign aid will also be part of Australia’s step up in the Pacific region to improve relations, the prime minister says.

“It’s not just about funding it’s also about respect,” Albanese told ABC News on Thursday.

“We need to re-engage with the region, they are sovereign nations of course and we need to respect that, but we need to be offering more support.”

New Foreign Minister Penny Wong has flown to Fiji to help solidify the government’s relationship with Australia’s Pacific neighbour.

A day after she returned to Australia following a visit to Tokyo for the Quad leaders’ summit, Wong will meet with Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, along with the country’s foreign minister and senior leaders.

Wong said the visit would help to strengthen the relationship between Australia and Fiji, as well as the broader region.

“The visit, in my first week as foreign minister, demonstrates the importance we place on our relationship with Fiji and on our Pacific engagement,” she said in a statement.

“Australia will listen to our Pacific partners as we work together to face our shared challenges and achieve our shared goals.”

Climate change, pandemic recovery, economic development along with regional security are expected to be high on the agenda during the talks with Fiji’s prime minister.

The visit comes amid heightened tensions in the Indo-Pacific region following China and the Solomon Islands signing a new security pact.

China is also seeking security arrangements with other Pacific nations that resemble the controversial Solomons pact.

The details of the new arrangements are contained in pre-written joint statements Beijing officials plan to release after meetings with 10 island nations on Monday, documents obtained by AAP show.

While the China-Pacific meeting is to be held on video-link, Fiji is co-hosting the event alongside Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will also visit the Solomon Islands this week, along with Fiji, as part of a rapid tour of the Pacific region.

Wong will also use the visit to Fiji to meet Pacific Islands Forum secretary-general Henry Puna.

She will make a speech at the Forum Secretariat on the new commitments Australia would make to strengthen the Pacific family.

“These commitments include taking real action on climate change at home and with our region, as well as increased development assistance and security co-operation, and reforming and expanding our Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme,” she said.

“I look forward to sharing our ideas on how we seek to bring together Australia’s defence, strategic, diplomatic and economic capabilities to support our region’s priorities.”

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