Aussie re­vamps Pa­cific strat­egy as China looms

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD -

WITH an eye on China’s grow­ing role in the Pa­cific, Aus­tralia on Thurs­day an­nounced A$3 bil­lion in fi­nan­cial en­tice­ments to boost its pres­ence in the re­gion, ac­com­pa­nied by a se­ries of se­cu­rity and po­lit­i­cal ini­tia­tives.

Bei­jing is pil­ing in­vest­ment into the Pa­cific, send­ing ever more fish­ing ves­sels deeper into its wa­ters and re­port­edly mulling the con­struc­tion of a mil­i­tary base on Van­u­atu.

Faced with this in­creas­ing Chi­nese in­flu­ence, Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son vowed to take Aus­tralia’s en­gage­ment “to a new level.”

“We want to work with our Pa­cific Is­lands part­ners to build a Pa­cific re­gion that is se­cure strate­gi­cally, sta­ble eco­nom­i­cally and sov­er­eign po­lit­i­cally,” Mor­ri­son said as he pre­pares for a ma­jor AsianPa­cific sum­mit in Port Moresby next week.

He un­der­scored a se­ries of se­cu­rity, eco­nomic and diplo­matic ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing the do­na­tion of pa­trol boats and the devel­op­ment of a joint mil­i­tary base in Pa­pua New Guinea.

The cen­tre­piece how­ever is cold hard cash – much sought af­ter by poverty-hit coun­tries in the re­gion – with Mor­ri­son an­nounc­ing a A$2 bil­lion ($1.5 bil­lion) fund “to sig­nif­i­cantly boost Aus­tralia’s sup­port for in­fra­struc­ture devel­op­ment in Pa­cific coun­tries and Ti­morLeste”.

He also an­nounced a fur­ther A$1 bil­lion for ex­port fi­nanc­ing to sup­port in­vest­ments in the re­gion.

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 long 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.

Although the Pa­cific is­lands are small in size, and a less vi­tal wa­ter­way for trade than the con­tested South China Sea, their ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zones make up a mas­sive pro­por­tion of the world’s mar­i­time as­sets.

And the re­gion has be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant as Bei­jing has sig­nalled its in­tent to de­velop a “Blue Wa­ter” navy that can project Chi­nese power far be­yond its coastal wa­ters.

The Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties have also been keen to har­ness nat­u­ral re­sources from hard­wood to nickel and have – with no­table suc­cess – tried to en­tice coun­tries in the re­gion to drop recog­ni­tion of Tai­wan, iso­lat­ing its cross-strait foe.

The num­ber of Chi­nese fish­ing ves­sels op­er­at­ing in the tuna-rich wa­ters of the Pa­cific has also in­creased from 244 in 2010 to over 600, ac­cord­ing to data from West­ern and Cen­tral Pa­cific Fish­eries Com­mis­sion.

With­out men­tion­ing China by name, Mor­ri­son – whose for­eign min­is­ter is in Bei­jing this week – hailed com­mon val­ues with is­land na­tions and said he would ex­pand Aus­tralia’s diplo­matic foot­print to “ev­ery mem­ber coun­try of the Pa­cific Is­lands Fo­rum”.

Aus­tra lian me­dia re­ported t hat Mor­ri­son will con­tinue his cha r m of fen­sive at t he Asia-Pacif ic sum­mit in Por t Moresby.

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