On Saturday, China’s foreign minister signed a pact with Samoa to deepen diplomatic ties, while Australia’s new leader declared he has a “comprehensive plan” for the Pacific, as Beijing and Canberra pursued their respective wooing operations in the region.
China is building on a security deal it recently inked with the Solomon Islands, which has unnerved the US and its allies, including Australia, who are concerned about Beijing’s increased military presence. The Pacific Islands are a top diplomatic focus for Australia’s new center-left administration.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who was sworn in on Monday, said his Labor government’s agenda includes a defense training school, assistance for marine security, increased funding, and re-engaging the area on climate change.
He told reporters, “We will be aggressive in the region; we want to engage.”
China’s Wang Yi completed a visit to Samoa, where he met Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa and signed documents including a “economic and technological cooperation agreement,” according to a statement from Samoa. Wang Yi is on a tour of the Pacific in search of a 10-nation deal on security and trade.
“Samoa and the People’s Republic of China will pursue deeper collaboration in order to deliver on shared interests and commitments,” the statement stated.
Also on Saturday, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said he had a “great meeting” with Australia’s Penny Wong, who had come to underscore the new government’s commitment to the Pacific Islands just days after entering office.
Bainimarama remarked on Twitter, “Fiji is not anyone’s backyard – we are a part of a Pacific family,” with a photo of himself and Penny Wong shaking hands.
Bainimarama looked to be slamming Scott Morrison, the conservative prime minister who was defeated in an election last weekend and once referred to the Pacific as Australia’s “backyard.”
Climate change, which Pacific Island nations see as an existential threat, was a major campaign theme.
China’s Wang expressed hope that Beijing’s ties with the Solomon Islands might serve as a regional example, while Australia’s Wong stated that Canberra will be a partner with no strings attached.
Wang was on his way to Fiji, where he will host a summit on Monday and is expected to push for the regional agreement.