Prime Minister Scott Morrison is vowing to put the Pacific islands at the center of Australia’s strategic outlook, amid concerns its influence in the region is waning as China increases its diplomatic and economic presence. The pivot towards the region will see the Australian Defence Force create a Pacific Mobile Training Team to undertake more engagem-
ent with other forces in the region, and conduct increased naval deployments for maritime training and exercises.
“This is our patch,” Morrison is expected to say in a speech in the northern state of Queensland on Thursday. “It’s where Australia can make the biggest difference in world affairs.”
Australia, a key ally of the US, has hit rocky diplomatic ground in the past year with China, its main trading partner. Tensions were raised when the government voiced concerns about Beijing-backed companies funding infrastructure in Pacific nations, amid fears that could lead to Chinese military bases in the region. While the Pacific has traditionally been seen as Australia’s diplomatic turf and is the biggest recipient of foreign aid from Canberra, China has been increasing loans to small, indebted Pacific island nations.
The measures in Morrison’s speech follow his November 1 announcement that Australia is formally committing to a joint initiative with Papua New Guinea to develop a naval base, edging out a bid by China.
That followed a June announcement that Australia will help fund a new telecommunications cable stretching from Sydney to the Solomon Islands, squeezing out Huawei Technologies Co.