Published: Sun, November 11, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Australia details investment in South Pacific infrastructure

Australia details investment in South Pacific infrastructure

Morrison's announcement of increased engagement in the Pacific comes after he said last week that Australia is formally committing to a joint initiative with Papua New Guinea to develop a naval base, edging out a bid by China.

"My Government is returning the Pacific to where it should be - front and centre of Australia's strategic outlook, foreign policy and personal connections, including at the highest levels of government".

"This is our patch, this is our part of the world", Morrison said in his most detailed foreign policy speech since becoming prime minister in August. "We are connected as members of a Pacific family". Diplomats will be placed in all 18 countries in the Pacific Islands Forum, with new embassies planned for Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands.

He will ask Parliament for an extra $1 billion in callable capital to Australia's export financing agency for investments in the region that have a "broad national benefit" for Australia.

China has spent over a billion dollars on concessional loans and gifts since 2011 to become the Pacific's second-largest donor after Australia, stoking concern in the West that nations could end up overburdened and in debt to Beijing.

Mr Morrison's announcement on Thursday came days after a similar scheme was proposed by Australia's opposition leader Bill Shorten, who said if elected, he would set up a bank to support loans to Pacific island nations.

Mr Morrison told 2GB radio Australia needed to look after its own backyard.

"In our respective way, we can contribute to the development and prosperity in the Pacific island countries", Wang said. "And sadly I think too often we have".

Ahead of next week's Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation and East Asia summits, the Government has approached TV broadcasters about getting more lifestyle, news, current affair, drama and children's programs to the Pacific community.

"We've realistically acknowledged today that in a relationship as dynamic as ours. there will be from time to time differences", she said later at a separate news briefing.

But amid a growing trade spat between the United States and China, Payne's visit was an opportunity for Canberra to leverage its economic relationship.

"Australia is reacting to what China is doing".

Marise Payne spoke after meeting with China's chief diplomat Wang Yi on the first visit to Beijing by an Australian foreign minister in almost three years as both countries pursue a thaw in relations.

It is rare for foreign officials to publicly chastise China over its human rights record during a visit to the country.

Wang said that he had agreed with Payne that the two countries could combine their respective strengths and embark on trilateral cooperation with Pacific island countries.

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