Published: Sun, November 11, 2018
Worldwide | By Jermaine Blake

Australia launches $1.5 bln Pacific fund to counter China’s influence

Australia launches $1.5 bln Pacific fund to counter China’s influence

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.

Australia and China have been vying for influence in sparsely populated Pacific island countries that control vast swathes of resource-rich oceans.

Mr Morrison also announced plans to open new diplomatic missions in Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands.

Australia's aid dollars would be "stretched further" as infrastructural grants and loans in telecommunications, energy, transport [and] water, according to a draft Morrison speech cited by Reuters and multiple Australian media outlets.

China has taken offense at new Australian law passed over claims of Chinese meddling in Australian politics, amid caution in Australia over Chinese stakes in telecoms and research projects and China's growing western Pacific naval presence.

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

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.

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

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is set to announce his pivot to the Pacific as he prepares to meet regional leaders at the APEC forum in Papua New Guinea.

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.

In a speech last week, Opposition leader Bill Shorten promised to put Pacific "front and centre" in Australia's foreign policy if elected, and ensure that those islands looking for partners to help them build infrastructure "look to Australia first".

In May, Australia said it would spend about $US145 million to develop an undersea internet cables to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands amid national security concerns about China's Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.

After the meeting, Wang said China and Australia were "not competitors, not rivals, but partners" in the region.

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