Australia also promised its neighbors to take tough measures to tackle climate change.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong is making her third official visit to the Pacific in less than a month since the new Australian government won the election on May 21.
He has visited Samoa, Tonga and Fiji in his government’s effort against China’s diplomatic efforts in the region.
During his visit to New Zealand on Thursday (16/6), Wong said Australia should be more involved in the region. He also accused the previous government of being inactive.
Wong’s diplomatic streak comes after China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s extensive visit to the Pacific region earlier this month. Yi failed to persuade the ten Pacific island nations to join a trade and security agreement, although many of them, including Kiribati and Samoa, signed separate bilateral agreements.
Beijing had previously agreed a security protocol with the Solomon Islands, located in northeastern Australia, to improve domestic law enforcement and assistance in the event of natural disasters. Chinese officials say Beijing has no intention of competing with other countries for influence in the region.
However, Australia and its allies fear the Solomon deal will eventually give Beijing a strategic military foothold in the region.
Wong told Radio New Zealand that interference from countries outside the region was unnecessary. “Pacific security must be provided by the Pacific region family. We are concerned about interference in Pacific security matters by countries outside the Pacific region family.”
Australia’s relations with China have deteriorated in recent years due to various political and trade disputes.
Australia and New Zealand are watching eagerly as China seeks to expand its trade and security ties in the Pacific.
New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaiah Mahuta said, “We both understand that the Pacific is a disputed region. Therefore, by working together, it is very important not only to ensure that we work along the Pacific, while each country sets its own priorities. but also how we partner with the Pacific on the biggest issues, such as climate change, economic resilience, where we have the opportunity to work together.”
Earlier this month, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Sydney, ahead of Wong’s visit to Wellington. Climate change and geopolitics are topics of discussion, as well as Australia’s controversial policy of deporting New Zealanders convicted of crimes.
Ardern’s complaint is that many of those deported from Australia have spent most of their lives in the country and have few family ties to their home countries. Albanese said his new government could soften Australia’s deportation policy. [rd/lt]