Sunday, 18 November, 2018

Australia unveils $2.18 bn Pacific fund to counter Chinas sway in region

Navy personnel on parade during a commissioning ceremony for HMAS Brisbane in Sydney last month Navy personnel on parade during a commissioning ceremony for HMAS Brisbane in Sydney last
Pablo Mccormick | 11 November, 2018, 03:33

Australia will offer Pacific countries up to A$3 billion ($2.18 billion) in grants and cheap loans to build infrastructure, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday, as Canberra seeks to counter China's rising influence in the region.

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.

Australia's Defence Force would set up a permanent training team for the Pacific and increase deployments.

Australia has in recent months earmarked the Pacific for infrastructure spending, driven by national security concerns, but it has been forced to raid its aid budget to fund projects.

He would declare Australia's "abiding interest in a Southwest Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically", ABC News reported.

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"This is our patch. We are connected as members of a Pacific family".

He also said Australia would also expand its diplomatic presence in the Pacific, posting staff to Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands.

Still, the change of emphasis into the Pacific for Australia may not be sustained.

A new Pacific facility is to be established at the Australian Institute of Police Management to train Pacific police leaders. "And sadly I think too often we have". That threatened to upset political ties as well as economic relations with China, which buys about one-third of Australia's exports.

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

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

Standing alongside Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi made the conciliatory remarks after a meeting in Beijing widely billed as a step toward re-setting bilateral ties after a lengthy diplomatic chill.

He said Australia will also strengthen people-to-people links with Pacific security forces.

Last week, Australia said it and Papua New Guinea (PNG) would jointly redevelop a naval base on PNG's Manus Island, eclipsing China as a possible port development partner. Canberra said it was concerned about "undue concentration of foreign ownership by a single company group". Wang said Beijing welcomed that assurance. "We are confident Australia will translate its positive will of growing relations with China into actual actions".

"While China and Australia do not always agree, it is vitally important that we always match our words with actions", he said.

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Ms Payne later told reporters: "We've realistically acknowledged today that in a relationship as dynamic as ours. there will be from time to time differences".

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