Published: Sun, November 11, 2018

China Shuns Rivalry in Pacific as Australia Says 'This Is Our Patch'

China Shuns Rivalry in Pacific as Australia Says 'This Is Our Patch'

Australia and China have been vying for influence in the sparsely populated Pacific which controls vast swathes of resource-rich oceans.

But China's growing ties, including substantial low-interest loans to some countries, have prompted concerns in Canberra that small nations such as Vanuatu or Tonga may fall into a debt trap and are unable to repay loans and may become politically indebted to Beijing.

Australian media reported that Morrison will continue his charm offensive at the Asia-Pacific summit in Port Moresby, where he will host leaders for a barbecue.He will have competition from Xi Jinping, who is also expected to meet a host of regional leaders when he attends the summit.U.S. president Donald Trump will not attend, sending Vice President Mike Pence in his stead.

"In our respective way, we can contribute to the development and prosperity in the Pacific island countries", Wang said.

The Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility would issue grants and long-term loans for "high priority" projects including telecommunications, energy, transport and water.

"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. 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 announce measures to boost relations, including more navy deployments for training and exercises, partnering with commercial media outlets to beam more Australian content into the Pacific and a new sports diplomacy program to bring people together.

According to an analysis by the Lowy Institute, China committed about US$1.8 billion (S$2.5 billion) in aid to South Pacific islands between 2006 and 2016, much less than Australia's provision of US$7.7 billion.

Payne visited Beijing for the Fifth Australia-China Foreign and Strategic Dialogue.

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

"This announcement will be a gauge of whether Australia can improve relations with Beijing while doing things that would have previously annoyed China", said Nick Bisley, professor of worldwide relations at Melbourne's La Trobe University.

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.

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.

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