Australian FM tour of Pacific has China in sights

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Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Wednesday announced a visit this week to the Pacific Islands of New Caledonia and Tuvalu. This is a part of Canberra's efforts to seeks closer cooperation to counter China's rising influence in the region.

During the trip from Wednesday through Friday, Wong will meet with New Caledonian President Louis Mapou and Louis Le Franc, France's high commissioner of the French territory, as well as Tuvalu's Acting Prime Minister Ampelosa Tehulu and members of his cabinet.

The agenda includes tackling climate change, seen as the biggest threat facing the Pacific islands, and supporting economies hit hard by the plunge in tourism during the coronavirus pandemic.

The trip fulfills a pledge by Australia's Labor Party administration to visit all of the other 17 members of the Pacific Islands Forum, and provides an opportunity to tout its increased engagement with the islands ahead of the end of its first year in May.

This outreach comes as China has expanded its footprint in the region, as demonstrated by previous Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's tour of seven Pacific island nations last year. Some observers believe Beijing supported the pro-independence side in New Caledonia's 2021 referendum on parting ways from France.

New Caledonia is becoming more geopolitically significant as a major supplier of nickel, demand for which is expected to grow as a key material for electric-vehicle batteries. The territory is the world's fourth-largest producer of the metal, accounting for about 7% of the global total, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Australia aims to host the COP31 climate conference in 2026 together with Pacific island nations. It hopes that stepping up cooperation on issues of importance to these countries will check China's efforts to expand its influence.

Copyright Greekcitytimes 2024