Australia, NZ discuss strategy for the Pacific

CANBERRA, 23 AUGUST 2018 (AAP) – Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop met New Zealand counterpart Winston Peters in Canberra Wednesday to discuss the strategy for the Pacific, which he said was growing in importance.

The Pacific Islands Forum will meet on Nauru next month and Peters said the debt that Pacific countries owed to other nations, including China, would be discussed.

“If your indebtedness to any country is 42 per cent… it depends on whether you can pay it back. And at 42 per cent that is far too high for Tonga and Pacific nations,” he said.

Bishop said Australia and New Zealand wouldn’t dictate the agenda at the Pacific meeting, but instead listen to what they have to say.

Peters has also been vocal about concern around Chinese government lending in the Pacific Islands.

He was quizzed on the matter Wednesday and said he had told Chinese government officials their brand in the region had been hit as a result of unsuccessful projects.

“I put it to them that their whole reputation was being tarnished by allowing — in their name , whether they were aware of it going on or not — that sort of finished product,” Peters said at the National Press Club.

“And I was delighted they said they would seriously hear what I’m saying and look into making sure it didn’t happen, or that which did happen was fixed up.”

Peters has in the past expressed reservations about the previous New Zealand’s government’s move to sign up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Next month marks the point when New Zealand is set to agree on projects under the deal.

Peters said he was pursuing China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, for details about what the deal entailed practically.

The program has drawn criticism over the way it has landed poorer nations with debt they cannot pay back.

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