World: Solomons first trip for re-elected Australia PM amid China tensions - - PressFrom - US

WorldSolomons first trip for re-elected Australia PM amid China tensions

05:21  27 may  2019
05:21  27 may  2019 Source:

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Australia passed sweeping foreign interference laws on Thursday that have been one of the most contentious pillars of deteriorating relations with China in recent months. It's not the first time the idea of the Cold War has been invoked in discussion around Australia 's current national security.

Australia 's parliament has passed a package of new laws aimed at preventing foreign interference in the country. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the crackdown Although he denied it was aimed specifically at China , the move has added to diplomatic tensions with Beijing in recent months.

Solomons first trip for re-elected Australia PM amid China tensions© Saeed KHAN Prime Minister Scott Morrison was recently elected to a second term after his coalition parties' surprise victory in the Australian election

Re-elected Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's first foreign trip will be to the Solomon Islands, in a move to cement the Pacific as Canberra's strategic priority amid growing Chinese influence in the region.

Morrison's visit to the Solomons next week will come after he elevated the Pacific back to a full ministerial role on Sunday, appointing to the position a close ally who will also serve as assistant defence minister.

"I think the prime minister's decision to visit the Solomon Islands is an absolute reinforcement of the importance of our Pacific 'step-up'," Foreign Minister Marise Payne told national broadcaster ABC on Monday.

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Australia is expected to pass legislation on Thursday aimed at preventing interference by foreign governments, a move likely to further stoke tensions China will not want to again be singled out,” said James Laurenceson, deputy director of the Australia - China Relations Institute at the University

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"And... most importantly, saying to our family in the Pacific, our neighbours in the Pacific, this is where Australia lives and this is what is important to us."

Australia's views the Pacific islands as its backyard and there have been ongoing tensions between Canberra and Beijing as China flexes its muscle -- including billions of dollars in investments -- in the region.

Beijing was also reportedly mulling the construction of a military base on Vanuatu.

US State Department official Patrick Murphy, who visited Canberra last week for meetings with his Australian counterparts, said the idea of a Chinese military base in the South Pacific was troubling.

But Payne said the push for stronger Australian involvement in the Pacific was not triggered by Beijing's increased presence.

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Adding to the tensions , China and the U.S. are locked in a tariff dispute that shows little sign of dissipating and Washington has repeatedly accused Beijing of running a cyberespionage campaign to capture commercial and government secrets.

China said it would return a US navy drone seized in international waters in the South China Sea “in an appropriate manner” as both countries accused the other of ratcheting up tensions in the region. In a statement issued on Saturday night, the Chinese defence ministry said it had taken the drone for

"We've always said that the establishment of facilities of that nature by other parties... would change and affect Australia's strategic outlook. But that is not the focus of our Pacific step-up," Payne said.

"It goes to people-to-people links, it goes to education, it goes to infrastructure development, it goes from church to church relationships, it goes to Pacific labour mobility. So it's much, much broader than that."

Morrison's visit to the Solomons will be the first by an Australian prime minister since Kevin Rudd's in 2008.

The islands are heavily reliant on foreign aid and among the few countries to give Taiwan diplomatic recognition.

Beijing views Taiwan as a renegade province and both have vied for diplomatic influence in the Pacific for decades.

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