Improving Australia, China ties helps Pacific island nations – PNG minister

SYDNEY – Pacific Islands nations that want closer economic ties with Beijing will benefit from improved relations between Australia and China, Papua New Guinea’s minister for state Justin Tkachenko said on Thursday.

Attending the Pacific Islands Forum on the Cook islands, Mr. Tkachenko said Papua New Guinea was “very happy Australia had good outcomes” from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s visit this week to China, the first by an Australian leader in seven years after a diplomatic freeze.

“China is an important player and partner in our country economically and physically. Now that Australia is coming back on board with China in a major way, it’s a good outcome for the Pacific,” he told Reuters by telephone.

PNG struck a defense cooperation agreement with the United States in May, amid concern by Washington and Canberra over Beijing’s security ambitions in the Pacific Islands, where China has policing deals with Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Australia is PNG’s largest aid donor, and the biggest donor across the Pacific region.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape visited Beijing last month, as the resource-rich but largely undeveloped nation also seeks closer trade ties with China.

“When Australia is working closely with China it helps us and makes it easier for the Pacific,” Mr. Tkachenko added.

The meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum regional bloc had discussed climate change, regional security and the economy, Albanese told reporters on Thursday in the Cook Islands, where 18 member nations will hold meetings through to Friday.

Australia, one of the world’s largest exporters of coal and gas, has committed to reduce emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050, but has come under pressure from some Pacific Islands nations to do more to combat climate change by phasing out fossil fuels. China is its largest resources customer.

Albanese pointed to Australia’s A$350m climate infrastructure fund for the Pacific, and told reporters he had spoken at the forum on Australia’s plans to transition to producing green steel and aluminum, to develop green hydrogen and build up its critical minerals and rare earths sector.

Pacific Islands Forum members span a combined 30 million square kilometers of ocean between the United States and Asia, and say rising sea levels and worsening storms caused by climate change are their greatest security concern.

China, Taiwan and the United States have also sent delegations to the Cook Islands, among a large group of partners and observers to the forum. Four forum members hold diplomatic ties with Taiwan and not Beijing. – Reuters

Jino Nicolas

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