By Kirsty Needham
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will set up a defense school to train Pacific island militaries, Canberra’s new Pacific minister said, amid growing competition for security ties in the region and as China is preparing a rival meeting for the Pacific Islands Forum next month.
Australia will double funding for aerial surveillance of the vast Pacific Islands fishing ground and provide funding to Pacific Islands to build more resilient infrastructure as sea level rise in the Pacific is expected to be four times higher than the global average, International Development and Pacific Minister Pat Conroy told a Pacific conference on Tuesday.
“The Australian government knows that the issue of security is inseparable from the issue of climate change,” he said in a video address to the conference in Fiji’s capital, Suva.
At the Pacific Islands Forum to be held in Suva next month, regional leaders are expected to discuss China’s efforts to strike a trade and security deal with 10 Pacific island nations that have diplomatic ties with China.
A leaked version of the deal showed it covered fisheries and maritime security as well as police training.
The 18-member forum includes Australia and New Zealand, which have expressed concern over the recent security deal between China and the Solomon Islands, as well as several nations that recognize Taiwan and not Beijing.
China, which is not a member of the PIF, is seeking to host a video meeting with the 10 nations it wants to sign to a multilateral pact on July 14, to coincide with the final day of the PIF leaders’ meeting, a source with direct knowledge of the case told Reuters.
The political leadership dialogue scheduled by the Communist Party’s international department also coincides with the day when a statement is expected to be issued by the leaders of the forum. It is unclear whether the meeting with China will go ahead, after some nations were reportedly upset over the schedule.
Last year, a similar event was organized by the Minister of the Communist Party’s International Department.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing in Beijing on Tuesday that questions about the meeting should be referred to “relevant competent authorities” but made some general comments.
“China’s relations with Pacific island countries are currently developing well, with government departments, legislative bodies, political parties and civil society on both sides maintaining close contacts and cooperation,” he said. .
He noted that the PIF had suspended an annual meeting traditionally held during the forum for non-member countries considered dialogue partners, including China and the United States.
“We fully respect the decision of the PIF side to suspend the dialogue event this year and will maintain close communication with stakeholders on follow-up arrangements,” he added.
Tensions between China and island states that have diplomatic ties with Taiwan were highlighted when Tuvalu’s foreign minister pulled out of a United Nations ocean conference on Monday after China prevented three Taiwanese members of the Tuvalu delegation to attend.
Conroy said the Pacific Islands Forum had brought the region together for 50 years and was “the heart of Pacific regionalism”.
Ahead of the meeting, he outlined the new Australian government’s commitments to support the region, including an Australia-Pacific Defense School which would provide training for defense and security forces.
The promise, first made in the election, to double funding for aerial surveillance of the Pacific Exclusive Economic Zones would increase maritime security and recover US$150 million lost each year to illegal fishing, it said. -he declares.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; additional reporting by Martin Quin Pollard and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)