Australia unveils $2.18 bn Pacific fund to counter Chinas sway in region

Scott Morrison has already hit the campaign trail in Queensland

Scott Morrison has already hit the campaign trail in Queensland

Australian media reported that Morrison will continue his charm offensive at the Asia-Pacific summit in Port Moresby, where he will host leaders for a barbecue.He will have competition from Xi Jinping, who is also expected to meet a host of regional leaders when he attends the summit.United States president Donald Trump will not attend, sending Vice President Mike Pence in his stead.

Australia will provide grants and loans for telecommunications, energy, transport...

In a speech to be delivered today, Mr Morrison will declare it is time to "open a new chapter in relations with our Pacific family".

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday (Nov 8) announced a A$3 billion (S$2.99 billion) package to boost ties with Pacific island nations amid growing concerns about China's growing influence in the region.

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.

"In our respective way, we can contribute to the development and prosperity in the Pacific island countries", Wang said. She met her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, who on a visit to Papua New Guinea last month said China would "never" interfere in local matters.

Mr Morrison will announce new diplomatic missions in Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands.

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A new Pacific facility is to be established at the Australian Institute of Police Management to train Pacific police leaders.

He also plans to establish a locally-based Australian Defence Force team, which will travel to the Pacific - when invited - to undertake training and engagement with other forces.

Ties became strained late a year ago, when the previous Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, accused China of interfering in its domestic affairs.

The two countries have endured turbulent ties following Canberra's introduction of laws late previous year to curb foreign interference - measures that were seen as aimed at Beijing.

Australia's foreign minister raised China's internment of Uighur minorities in Xinjiang at a meeting with her Chinese counterpart on Thursday as Beijing comes under increasing worldwide scrutiny over its controversial security policy.

After the meeting, Wang said China and Australia were "not competitors, not rivals, but partners" in the region.

China would not be explicitly mentioned by Morrison, but the "reorientation would go some way to countering the [Chinese] largesse flowing into tiny nations such as Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands from Beijing", said the West Australian. Wang said Beijing welcomed that assurance.

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