Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wants Australia to be the main security partner for Pacific nations, amid revelations that China wants to broker deals that would allow it to train local law enforcement across the region.
Foreign aid will also be part of Australia’s stepping up in the Pacific region to improve relations, the prime minister said.
“It’s not just about funding, it’s also about respect,” Albanese told ABC News on Thursday.
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“We need to re-engage with the region, of course they are sovereign nations and we need to respect that, but we need to offer more support.”
New Foreign Secretary Penny Wong has flown to Fiji to help cement the government’s relationship with Australia’s Pacific neighbour.
A day after returning to Australia from a visit to Tokyo for the Quad Leaders Summit, Senator Wong will meet with Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, as well as the country’s Foreign Minister and senior leaders.
Senator Wong said the visit would help strengthen relations between Australia and Fiji, as well as the wider region.
“The visit, in my first week as foreign minister, demonstrates the importance we place on our relationship with Fiji and our engagement in the Pacific,” she said in a statement.
“Australia will listen to our Pacific partners as we work together to address our common challenges and achieve our common goals.”
Climate change, pandemic recovery, economic development as well as regional security are expected to be on the agenda during the talks with the Prime Minister of Fiji.
The visit comes amid heightened tensions in the Indo-Pacific region after China and the Solomon Islands signed a new security pact.
China is also seeking security agreements with other Pacific countries that resemble the controversial Solomon Islands pact.
Details of the new arrangements are contained in pre-written joint statements Beijing officials plan to release after meetings with 10 island nations on Monday, according to documents obtained by AAP.
While the China-Pacific meeting will be held via video link, Fiji is co-hosting the event alongside Beijing.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will also visit the Solomon Islands this week, along with Fiji, as part of a quick tour of the Pacific region.
Senator Wong will also take advantage of his visit to Fiji to meet with the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Henry Puna.
She will deliver a speech to the Forum Secretariat on further commitments Australia would make to strengthen the Pacific family.
“These commitments include taking concrete action on climate change at home and with our region, as well as increased development assistance and security cooperation, and the reform and expansion of our Pacific Australia Labor Mobility program. (PALM),” she said.
“I look forward to sharing our ideas on how we seek to bring together Australia’s defence, strategic, diplomatic and economic capabilities to support our region’s priorities.”