Scott Mor­ri­son to re­veal $3bn in Pa­cific fund­ing to counter Chi­nese in­flu­ence

The Guardian Australia - - Politics / World News - Katharine Mur­phy Po­lit­i­cal edi­tor

Scott Mor­ri­son will un­veil a $2bn in­fra­struc­ture fi­nanc­ing fa­cil­ity for the Pa­cific as part of new mea­sures de­signed to pro­ject Aus­tralia as the re­gion’s prin­ci­pal se­cu­rity and de­vel­op­ment part­ner at a time of ris­ing Chi­nese in­flu­ence.

Mor­ri­son will use a speech de­liv­ered at the Lavarack Bar­racks at Townsville on Thurs­day to flag the new pro­gram of loans and grants for in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment in Pa­cific coun­tries and Ti­mor Leste, and the prime min­is­ter is also ex­pected to com­mit an ex­tra $1bn for Efic, Aus­tralia’s ex­port fi­nanc­ing agency.

The in­jec­tion of fund­ing for Efic is in­tended for what Mor­ri­son char­ac­terises as “a new more flex­i­ble in­fra­struc­ture fi­nanc­ing power to sup­port in­vest­ments in the re­gion which have a broad na­tional ben­e­fit for Aus­tralia”.

The new in­fra­struc­ture fi­nanc­ing fa­cil­ity will pri­ori­tise in­vest­ments in es­sen­tial in­fra­struc­ture like telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, en­ergy, trans­port, wa­ter, and Mor­ri­son will say the pro­gram “will stretch our aid dol­lars fur­ther”.

The speech pro­vides no de­tails about how the new mea­sures will be funded.

As well as the pro­posed in­fra­struc­ture roll­out, which fol­lows Mor­ri­son’s de­ci­sion this week to re­buke the Vic­to­rian govern­ment for sign­ing up to China’s Belt and Road ini­tia­tive, Thurs­day’s speech will flag soft power ini­tia­tives, like get­ting more Aus­tralian con­tent on Pa­cific tele­vi­sion, and open­ing diplo­matic mis­sions in Palau, the Marshall Is­lands, French Poly­ne­sia, Niue and the Cook Is­lands.

It will also pro­pose se­cu­rity com­mit­ments, like a Aus­tralian de­fence force mo­bile train­ing team for the Pa­cific, more navy de­ploy­ments, annual meet­ings be­tween de­fence, po­lice and bor­der se­cu­rity co­man­ders, and cre­at­ing a Pa­cific fac­ulty at the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Po­lice Man­age­ment.

Thurs­day’s com­mit­ments come ahead of Mor­ri­son’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in his first sum­mit sea­son as prime min­is­ter. He will at­tend the East Asia Sum­mit and the Apec sum­mit in Pa­pua New Guinea next week.

Ahead of Apec, Mor­ri­son and his PNG coun­ter­part, Peter O’Neill, signed off on a joint naval base to be lo­cated on Manus Is­land. The joint fa­cil­ity, agreed last week, crowds out an as­pi­ra­tion by Beijing to de­velop the port. The cost of the pro­ject is not yet clear.

Aus­tralia has been ex­e­cut­ing a strate­gic pivot to the Pa­cific both un­der Mal­colm Turn­bull and Mor­ri­son to try and hold out a soft power of­fen­sive by China in the re­gion, ex­e­cuted pre­dom­i­nately through loans and in­fra­struc­ture projects de­liv­ered to the is­land na­tions.

China’s ex­pan­sion in the re­gion has co­in­cided with the Coali­tion’s de­ci­sion to cut Aus­tralia’s for­eign aid bud­get, which for­eign pol­icy ex­perts say has worked against Aus­tralia’s in­ter­ests in the Pa­cific par­tic­u­larly in a time of un­cer­tainty about Amer­ica’s on­go­ing com­mit­ment to the re­gion.

Aus­tralia stepped in re­cently to fund a new un­der­wa­ter in­ter­net ca­ble for the Solomon Is­lands to lock the Chi­nese telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany Huawei out of any deal, and the new fund will give the govern­ment fire­power to counter sim­i­lar over­tures from Beijing.

Mor­ri­son is ex­pected to say on Thurs­day that Aus­tralia’s na­tional se­cu­rity and that of the Pa­cific are in­ter­twined, and it is time to pur­sue a new chap­ter in re­gional re­la­tions.

“My govern­ment is re­turn­ing the Pa­cific to where it should be – front and cen­tre of Aus­tralia’s strate­gic out­look, for­eign pol­icy and per­sonal con­nec­tions, in­clud­ing at the high­est lev­els of govern­ment.”

“This is our patch. This is where we have spe­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. We al­ways have, and al­ways will. We have their back, they have ours. We are more than part­ners by choice. We are con­nected as mem­bers of a Pa­cific fam­ily.”

The prime min­is­ter has been cam­paign­ing in mar­ginal seats in Queens­land this week, and he will char­ac­terise the state crit­i­cal to the Coali­tion’s elec­tion for­tunes as “our gate­way to the Pa­cific”.

Ac­cord­ing to ex­tracts of his speech, Mor­ri­son will say he wanted to out­line the Pa­cific re­boot at the Lavarack Bar­racks in the mar­ginal La­bor-held seat of Her­bert, be­cause ser­vice­men and women were charged with putting the plan into ac­tion.

“Aus­tralia has an abid­ing in­ter­est in a south­west Pa­cific that is se­cure strate­gi­cally, sta­ble eco­nom­i­cally and sov­er­eign po­lit­i­cally,” he will say. “This is not just our re­gion, or our neigh­bour­hood. It’s our home.

“It’s where Aus­tralia can make the big­gest dif­fer­ence in world af­fairs. A strong, sta­ble re­gion keeps all of us more se­cure and en­ables our economies to grow.”

Mor­ri­son will say while Aus­tralia has nat­u­ral ad­van­tages as a se­cu­rity and de­vel­op­ment part­ner be­cause of his­tory, prox­im­ity and shared val­ues, Aus­tralia can­not take its in­flu­ence in the south­west Pa­cific for granted, “and too of­ten we have”.

Pho­to­graph: Dan Him­brechts/AAP

Scott Mor­ri­son and the prime min­is­ter of Pa­pua New Guinea, Peter O’Neill, in Syd­ney last week an­nounc­ing a joint naval base on ManusIs­land.

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