PM’s Pa­cific pivot a bid to di­lute China’s sway

The Advertiser - - NEWS -

lings for schoolkids. The kids were wav­ing red Chi­nese flags. This is just one ex­am­ple of what’s go­ing on in the Pa­cific and the back­drop to this week’s an­nounce­ment from the Prime Min­is­ter.

Aus­tralia has de­cided now is a good time to set up a diplo­matic mis­sion in Niue, along with four oth­ers in the Pa­cific re­gion. It’s part of a big “Pa­cific pivot” which also in­cludes a $2 bil­lion in­fra­struc­ture bank (sim­i­lar to one promised by Bill Shorten last week), $1 bil­lion more to help Aus­tralian firms ex­port­ing to the Pa­cific and height­ened mil­i­tary train­ing and dis­as­ter re­lief across the re­gion.

“Soft diplo­macy” moves will also see Aus­tralia build sports grounds and broad­cast more Aus­tralian TV con­tent into the re­gion. Tony Ab­bott switched off the “Aus­tralia Net­work”, now Mor­ri­son wants to switch it back on (although this time not via the ABC).

In an­nounc­ing all of that, the Prime Min­is­ter made no di­rect men­tion of China. In­stead, he said this was about en­sur­ing “our Pa­cific part­ner­ships get stronger with time”. Still, ev­ery­one knows this sharp­ened fo­cus on the Pa­cific is a re­sponse to China’s grow­ing in­ter­est and ac­tiv­ity in the re­gion.

The re­sponse is en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate, but Aus­tralia needs to be care­ful not to frame the Pa­cific as a strate­gic con­test with Bei­jing. If we’re there only to keep China at bay, that’s not go­ing to go down well with ei­ther Bei­jing or the Pa­cific.

On Thurs­day, Chi­nese For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi emerged from a meet­ing with his Aus­tralian coun­ter­part Marise Payne in Bei­jing to an­nounce what could be a new ap­proach.

“China and Aus­tralia are not com­peti­tors or ri­vals but co-op­er­a­tion part­ners,” he de­clared. “We have agreed we could com­bine and cap­i­talise on our re­spec­tive strengths to carry out tri­lat­eral co-op­er­a­tion in­volv­ing Pa­cific Is­land states.”

There was no in­di­ca­tion of how this “co-op­er­a­tion” might take shape, but un­less this is just empty rhetoric, Aus­tralia should grab this sug­ges­tion with both hands. It’s un­likely Bei­jing will run all of its de­ci­sions past Can­berra, but at least some level of co-or­di­na­tion may ad­dress Aus­tralia’s con­cerns over what China is do­ing. As one se­nior Aus­tralian fig­ure put it, Aus­tralia only needs to “di­lute” China’s strate­gic ac­tiv­ity in the Pa­cific, not stop it.

The Pa­cific pivot and Marise Payne’s pos­i­tive talks in Bei­jing capped off the Mor­ri­son Gov­ern­ment’s best week since the Went­worth by-elec­tion.

For all the fas­ci­na­tion with which base­ball cap Mor­ri­son wore, how he ate a meat pie or how of­ten he sat on the blue bus, the Gov­ern­ment was ac­tu­ally gov­ern­ing this week – and for once it was set­ting the agenda.

Josh Fry­den­berg made his first big for­eign in­vest­ment de­ci­sion as Trea­surer, knock­ing back an in­vest­ment from the Hong Kong listed CKI to buy Aus­tralian gas pipe­lines.

Mor­ri­son’s lo­cal an­nounce­ments on rail, road and wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture went down well as he toured Queens­land. And, with the help of $230 mil­lion for lo­cal projects, he locked in the sup­port of in­de­pen­dent MP Bob Kat­ter to pro­tect his mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment.

Even Mal­colm Turn­bull’s Q&A per­for­mance wasn’t as bad for the Gov­ern­ment as some had feared.

Next week the PM heads to the APEC and East Asia sum­mits, where he will be meet­ing the Chi­nese lead­er­ship among oth­ers. At least China now has a bet­ter idea of where Mor­ri­son stands. DAVID SPEERS IS THE SKY NEWS PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.