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Neighbours snub Australia in favour of China’s influence

Australia has failed in its attempts to buy favours from some of its closest Pacific neighbours for their compliance in turning the other cheek over policies on climate change and emissions.

A prominent Australian political consultant said the country’s “diplomatic and strategic approach” to the region has never been weaker than it is today.

Jeffrey Wall, who served PNG foreign minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu, the prime minister from 1988 until 1992, has also dismissed Australia’s “so-called Pacific step-up” agenda as underperforming, while calling its infrastructure financing facility an embarrassment.

The latest desperate act has only further contributed to Australia’s poor diplomatic standing.

The purchase of airfares and accommodation along with the handing out of daily allowances to Fiji and Solomon Islands to attend the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow has been Australia’s way to curb the growing Chinese influence in the Pacific.

“Does anyone seriously suggest that helping a group of Solomon Island ministers and officials travel to Glasgow will help mitigate China’s influence in the Solomon Islands or help rebuild ours?” Mr Wall said.

Solomon Islands has become China’s closest ally in the region, dominating trade, the construction of government projects under the communist government’s belt and road scheme first implemented in 2013 and accepting 90 per cent of the islands’ exports.

China and Pacific nations
China has often hosted Pacific nations for fresh talks in recent years. Picture: Pang Xinglei

Fiji has been the strongest of critics of Australia’s Pacific relations but was the first to receive up to $100 million in the latest Indo-Pacific carbon offsets scheme.

“The Fiji prime minister (Frank Bainimarama) expressed his gratitude by demanding that Australia commit to emissions reductions not just by 2050, but by 2030,” Mr Wall said.

Mr Wall said China has been effective in marginalising Australia’s own influence while building theirs “relentlessly and often ruthlessly” in the Pacific.

This opinion comes soon after the Chinese foreign minister held a phone hook-up with South Pacific nations, a similar meeting that Australia has neither convened nor shown an interest to organise.

PNG prime minister James Marape also demanded that developed countries that included Australia “apologise” for their emission levels.

RELATED EDITORIAL:
OPINION: Australia’s Pacific influence has never been weaker – and China’s has never been stronger

But China president XI Jinping conducted a phone conversation with Mr Marape just last week to smooth relations before releasing a “grovelling” statement about building a “China-Pacific Island countries community with a shared future”.

But the criticism has not been laid at the feet of the Chinese president Xi, who did not attend the Glasgow summit nor have made any financial commitments to help South Pacific nations mitigate climate change, while Australia has now summoned at least $700 million to the region as part of a $2 billion overall contribution.

“You would expect that Pacific leaders would be criticising President XI for ignoring Glasgow – and not making the commitments they have demanded of Australia,” Mr Wall said.

“Silence. Not one Pacific leader has done so.

“There can be only one reason for that. China through its strident diplomacy in the region, and more importantly through the conditions it attaches to belt and road funding, has bought the silence of our regional neighbours, while undoubtedly encouraged by China, they have turned attacking Australia into the Pacific’s new sport.”

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