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As China barges in, Australia admits to failings in the Pacific

China OzANDREW BEATTY | Agence France-Presse | Extracts

SYDNEY - Australia has admitted it had not focused enough attention on its Pacific backyard but vows to make "long overdue" amends amid growing Chinese influence in the region.

"I think we would have to accept some criticism," Australia's minister for international development and the Pacific, Anne Ruston, told AFP on Friday.

"We have perhaps not put as much attention and effort into our own region as we should of."

In recent months, Ruston has been at the sharp end of trying to fix that - jetting to-and-fro between Australia and far-flung Pacific Islands, as part of prime minister Scott Morrison's "step-up" in the region.

The policy includes more aid, more security assistance, more diplomats working in the region and, crucially, more face-to-face contacts.

It is, in large part, a response to Beijing's growing economic, political and military activity in the region.

While Australia was more focused on Fallujah than Fiji, China has been doling out loans and investment in the region and scooping up natural resources and telecoms contracts.

Still, Ruston rejected suggestions that Australia, by moving to develop security facilities in Papua New Guinea and Fiji is causing the type of militarisation many complain China is embarking on.

"This is our region, this is our area, this is where we live," she said.

"However you see the security and sovereignty of our region the Pacific is extremely important to Australia."

Australian re-engagement has been hampered by deep disagreements with Pacific nations over the conservative government's sceptical stance on climate change -- an existential threat to many island nations.

Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has been among those accusing Australia of putting its coal industry above the welfare of Pacific peoples.

"It is a very, very real issue for them," Ruston acknowledged.

In places like Kiribati -- where the average height of the land is a few feet above sea level -- it is "singularly the biggest issue that they have at the moment".

Canberra diplomats have tried to separate climate policy from day-to-day work to temper its impact.

The mitigation and infrastructure needs are enormous, "we talking tens of billions of dollars to be able to get the Pacific up to the kind of development standard, that I think Pacific aspires to have for itself", said the minister.

"I think it is the challenge of the job," said Ruston of balancing domestic and international issues, admitting that Australians have not been totally won over by the idea of long-term development assistance.

"I think one of the things that we've probably failed to do is to sell the message to the Australian public about why it is so important for Australia to assist, particularly our close neighbours in the Pacific."


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Philip Kai Morre

I think that China is winning the trade war because their currency is equivalent to our kina.

The value and exchange rate of our kina with US dollars is three times higher. There is evidence that from match box to big equipment are all have the label (made in China).

Paul Oates

There's an old saying Phil, that you don't count your chickens before they hatch.

Philip Fitzpatrick

The Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific is Senator Claire Moore.

Don't know much about her but she comes from Toowoomba in Queensland and is an ex public servant and unionist born in 1953.

It's highly likely she'll assume the same portfolio after May.

Might be worth contacting her now, Paul. If nothing else she might like to read the submission.

Thankfully Richard Marles has been given defence.

Paul Oates

Never mind selling the message, the worst thing we have done is to let our person to person friendships lapse and atrophy.

Of course that's of no real concern to those in their ivory towers in Canberra.

Maybe we should put a revised edition of our original submission personally to the new minister, Keith? How does one get past the 'gatekeepers' however?

Tingting blo yu olsem wanem?

Ating klostu baimbai oli senisim gavman. Long dispela taim mipela ken lukluk, tingting na tokaut long husat i sindaun long se blo PNG - KJ

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