Julie Bishop’s message for China: Pacific is Australia’s patch

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr, Julie Bishop, Penny Wong, first lady Debbie Remengesau and Claire Moore in Palau. Picture: THE AUSTRALIAN

KOROR – The Pacific is Australia’s “part of the world” and Canberra wants to be the “partner of choice” for island nations, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has said, underlining sharp differences with China.

Her comments, made during a tour of the North Pacific, follow a statement by Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang, who in April said: “The South Pacific island countries are not in the sphere of influence of any country, and some Australian people should stop interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.”

Bishop, International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong and Labor international development spokeswoman Claire Moore are visiting Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands on what has become an annual tour.

The visit follows intense debate about Chinese activity in the region.

“Travelling to Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands again sends a very clear message that we regard the Pacific as our part of the world, this is our region where we can make a difference,” Bishop said.

“The purpose of this week’s visit is to engage directly with the leaders on how we can deepen economic integration, strengthen security partnerships, expand our people-to-people links and talk about our development assistance.

“It underlines the importance Australia places on increasing our engagement with the Pacific and sends a very clear message that we want to continue to be the partner of choice for nations in the Pacific.”

Senator Wong said increasingly the Pacific was becoming more contested.

“We do know that the Pacific broadly is an area where there are new players, it is critical that Australia continues to deeply to engage with the region,” she told the ABC.

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