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Albanese was speaking with Today this morning as Foreign Minister Penny Wong heads to Fiji after it emerged China is pushing for 10 Pacific nations to sign a new security deal.
Wong will fly into Fiji today to meet with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, as China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and a 20-strong delegation begin a visit to more than half a dozen Pacific countries.
Albanese said the federal government was determined to restore Australia’s role as the security partner of choice for the region.
“It’s very clear that China is seeking to extend its influence into what has been since the Second World War … the region of the world where Australia has been the security partner of choice,” Albanese said.
The visits come after reports revealed China wants 10 small Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries in what one leader warns is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region.
A draft of the agreement obtained by the Associated Press shows China wants to train Pacific police officers, team up on “traditional and non-traditional security” and expand law enforcement cooperation.
China also wants to jointly develop a marine plan for fisheries, which would include the Pacific’s lucrative tuna catch, increase cooperation on running the region’s internet networks, and set up cultural Confucius Institutes and classrooms.
Albanese said Australia will be stepping up efforts in the Pacific and he would attend the Pacific Island Forum in July.
“It’s important that we put forward a comprehensive policy on Pacific reengagement at the election,” he said.
“We’ll set about implementing that as a matter of urgency and reaching out to our Pacific Island friends and making sure that they know that Australia wishes to continue to be the security partner of choice, but also partners in dealing with their economic growth and with climate change.”
Albanese also flagged renewing ties with Indonesia will be a priority in coming months.
He said his decision to attend the Quad summit in Tokyo just a day after being sworn in showed the new government’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific.
“I think it’s really helped the government … to have hit the ground running,” he said.
“The next visit will be up to Indonesia. That will be important as well.”
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