South Pacific nations have been “very positive” about Canberra’s “re-engagement”, Australia’s new prime minister has said, as China embarks on a region-wide diplomatic offensive that is raising concerns among Western powers.
Anthony Albanese’s comments – which aired in an interview with Sky News on Sunday – came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi traveled to Fiji for closely watched meetings with the island nation’s leaders and others from across the country. the whole region.
Wang, who began his South Pacific tour on Thursday in the Solomon Islands, is expected to discuss a far-reaching draft agreement and five-year plan that would significantly expand security and economic cooperation with Pacific countries. South.
But Albanese said Australia’s new diplomatic push had been welcomed.
“The response has been very positive,” Albanese said when asked about Pacific leaders’ reaction to recent efforts, including a visit to Fiji last week by new Foreign Secretary Penny Wong.
The prime minister said the previous Australian government had “dropped the ball” on the Pacific, both in terms of aid and also “non-commitment on values”.
“For our Pacific island neighbours, the issue of climate change is a matter of absolute national security,” Albanese said.
Along with increased environmental action, he also touted increased aid and plans to establish a defense training school in the Pacific.
During Australia’s recent election campaign, the centre-left Albanese Labor Party said the school would involve forces from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu and the islands Solomon.
Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang is expected to stay at least until Tuesday in Fiji’s capital, where he is due to hold a meeting with foreign ministers from across the Pacific.
The draft agreement and a five-year plan leaked ahead of the meeting, both obtained by AFP, would give China a bigger security footprint in the region.
Australian Foreign Minister Wong warned Pacific leaders of the deal last week during her visit to Fiji.
“We have publicly expressed our concerns about the security agreement,” she said.
Beijing last month signed a far-reaching pact with the Solomon Islands that Western governments feared could give China a military foothold in the region.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)