China not a factor in Australia’s Pacific aid – Bishop

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop during her last visit to Fiji. Picture: FT FILE

CANBERRA, 11 MAY 2018 (RNZ PACIFIC) – China’s rising influence in the Pacific played no part in Australia increasing aid to the region, its foreign minister says.

Australia’s US$970 million Pacific contribution now represents 30 percent of Australia’s total aid budget which remained frozen at U$S3.1 billion in the government’s annual budget announced this week.

Commentators such as New Zealand academic Anna Powles said the sub-text for Australian Pacific aid projects, including under sea internet cable to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands and a new Pacific Security College, was China and concern over an “increasingly contested regional order”.

The cable deal killed off an earlier plan for the Chinese firm Huawei to build a submarine link between the Solomons and Australia, while the college reflected “concerns that Australia has about a loss of influence in the region and the need to really spearhead and be the Pacific primary security partner”, Dr Powles said.

But the minister, Julie Bishop, said commentators got it wrong.

“Ever since I became foreign minister I have made the Pacific a foreign policy priority,” she told the ABC.

“Back in 2013, the commentators weren’t talking about China’s influence in the Pacific but I was talking about Australia’s influence and engagement in the Pacific,” she said.