Australian prime minister embarks on landmark Pacific trip
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison started in mid-January 2019 on a trip across the Pacific aimed at reasserting Australia’s influence, as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) expands its presence in the region.
Morrison, pictured, becomes the first Australian leader in nearly three decades to visit Vanuatu and the first prime minister since 2006 to visit Fiji, where he is expected to create a series of agreements centering on defense cooperation, economic links and cultural ties.
In 2018, Australia pledged U.S. $3 billion toward infrastructure upgrades to its Pacific neighbors. It also plans to help Fiji redevelop a military and police training facility.
“This is really about demonstrating, following through on the announcements I made last year, about stepping up our security partnerships, stepping up our economic and cultural partnerships,” Morrison told ABC radio.
The visits send a strong message to Fiji and Vanuatu that Australia takes its relationships seriously, experts said.
Australia remains by far the region’s largest trade partner and donor, according to the Daily Mailnewspaper, providing quadruple the amount of aid as the region’s next largest donor, New Zealand. With the increasing threat of PRC influence in the Pacific, Morrison has committed to stationing more diplomats in the Pacific. He also wants to increase investments in security cooperation and develop a military base in Papua New Guinea.
“This is part of our Pacific step-up,” Morrison told ABC radio. “It’s part of our refocusing on our international efforts on our own region, in our own backyard and making sure we can make the biggest possible difference.”