Australia launches $1.5 billion Pacific fund to counter China's influence

Australia launches $1.5 billion Pacific fund to counter China's influence

Australia launches $1.5 billion Pacific fund to counter China's influence

"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". The two countries have also been vying for influence in sparsely populated Pacific island countries that control vast swathes of resource-rich ocean.

Australian will also put diplomats in all 18 countries in the Pacific Islands Forum, with new embassies planned in Palau, Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Nui and Cook Islands.

China has spent over a billion dollars on concessional loans and gifts since 2011 to become the Pacific's second-largest donor after Australia, stoking concern in the West that nations could end up overburdened and in debt to Beijing.

Morrison's announcement of increased engagement in the Pacific comes after he said last week that Australia is formally committing to a joint initiative with Papua New Guinea to develop a naval base, edging out a bid by China.

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Declaring a "new chapter" in relations with the Pacific, Mr Morrison unveiled plans to establish a A$2 billion infrastructure bank to issue grants and long-term loans for telecommunications, energy, transport and water projects.

"While we have natural advantages in terms of history, proximity and shared values, Australia can not take its influence in the South-west Pacific for granted", he said.

According to an analysis by the Lowy Institute, China committed about US$1.8 billion (S$2.5 billion) in aid to South Pacific islands between 2006 and 2016, much less than Australia's provision of US$7.7 billion.

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

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Standing alongside Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi made the conciliatory remarks after a meeting in Beijing widely billed as a step toward re-setting bilateral ties after a lengthy diplomatic chill.

The new commitments come despite Mr Morrison ruling out increasing the overall foreign aid budget, with the Government to redirect funds to the Pacific to make the region a priority.

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

Payne said the government judged that the acquisition would have resulted in "an undue concentration of foreign ownership by a single company group in what is our most significant gas transmission business".

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In May, Australia said it would spend about $US145 million to develop an undersea internet cables to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands amid national security concerns about China's Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.

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