Australia must ‘respond’ to China’s moves in Pacific, says PM

Sydney, Australia, May 26 (EFE).- Australia’s new prime minister said Thursday that his country must “respond” to China’s moves to increase its influence in the Pacific, as his foreign minister traveled to Fiji to try to counter Beijing’s growing influence.

Anthony Albanese said Australia had “dropped the ball” and Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s visit to Fiji and other nations would show that Canberra wants to “step up.”

“We need to respond to this because this is China seeking to increase its influence in the region of the world where Australia has been the security partner of choice since the Second World War,” Albanese told national broadcaster ABC.

The newly elected prime minister was referring to Beijing’s leaked plans to seal security and trade pacts with 10 Pacific nations within five years.

Beijing has sent the draft communique, to which various media outlets have had access, and a five-year action plan to the governments of those countries ahead of a meeting that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will hold with their foreign ministers on May 30 in Fiji.

Albanese acknowledged that these are “sovereign nations,” but insisted that his newly formed government must be “offering more support.”

“Otherwise,” he added, “we can see the consequences with the deal that was done with the Solomons.”

The prime minister was referring to the security pact signed between the Solomon Islands and China, an agreement negotiated in an opaque manner and announced last month without details and which opens the possibility of Beijing sending security forces to the Solomons if requested by Honiara. It caused concern that Beijing may establish a military base there.

The Federated States of Micronesia’s President David Panuelo warned in a letter to 21 Pacific countries that China’s communique should be rejected under fears it could spark a new “Cold War” between China and the West.

He wrote that the documents and the meeting “are an intent to shift those of us with diplomatic relations with China very close into Beijing’s orbit, intrinsically tying the whole of our economies and societies to them.”

“The practical impacts, however, of Chinese control over our communications infrastructure, our ocean territory and the resources within them, and our security space, aside from impacts on our sovereignty, is that it increases the chances of China getting into conflict with Australia, Japan, the United States and New Zealand,” he said.

In the midst of this growing tension with China in the region, Foreign Minister Wong traveled to Fiji on Thursday on her first solo trip outside the country since taking office after the weekend’s federal election.

Wong is scheduled to hold a meeting with the Fiji’s prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, and is expected to give a speech during her stay in the country, where she wants to demonstrate the importance that Australia places on its relationship to Fiji and its commitment in the Pacific, she told the media.

The foreign minister’’s visit comes in parallel to that of Wang to Honiara, where he is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare as a prelude to his meeting with the 10 ministers on Monday. EFE


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