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Australia boosts Pacific spending and pledges new commitment to 'our patch'

Australia boosts Pacific spending and pledges new commitment to 'our patch'

"This is our patch, this is our part of the world", Morrison said in his most detailed foreign policy speech since becoming prime minister in August.

Amid concerns China is courting Pacific nations with infrastructure and loans, Mr Morrison will unveil a $2 billion Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific to support essential development and "stretch our aid dollars further".

China has spent $1.3 billion on concessional loans and gifts since 2011 to become the Pacific's second-largest donor after Australia, stoking concern in the West that several tiny nations could end up overburdened and in debt to Beijing.

Australia will also establish a Defence Force mobile training team for deployment to the Pacific to upskill local forces.

But Mr Morrison attempted to play down suggestions that the new measures in the Pacific were aimed at China. "We want to work with our Pacific Islands partners to build a Pacific region that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically", Morrison said as he prepares for a major Asian-Pacific summit in Port Moresby next week.

The number of Chinese fishing vessels operating in the tuna-rich waters of the Pacific has also increased from 244 in 2010 to over 600, according to data from Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.Without mentioning China by name, Morrison hailed common values with island nations and said he would expand Australia's diplomatic footprint to "every member country of the Pacific Islands Forum".

Ties between the two countries have been strained since Australia accused China of meddling in its domestic affairs late past year.

More news: Protest at Fox News host's home investigated as possible hate crime

It is rare for foreign officials to publicly chastise China over its human rights record during a visit to the country. That threatened to upset political ties as well as economic relations with China, which buys about one-third of Australia's exports.

The announcement came as Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne visited China in what had been described as a "thaw" in relations.

Ms Payne, the first Australian foreign minister to visit China in more than two years, met her counterpart Wang Yi on Thursday.

Payne emphasised Australia's commitment to "deepening" its strategic partnership with China, and said the two countries share many interests and goals, from countering protectionism to addressing climate change.

Mr Wang said he believed Australia and China could cooperate in the South Pacific. Canberra said it was concerned about "undue concentration of foreign ownership by a single company group".

Ms Payne later told reporters: "We've realistically acknowledged today that in a relationship as dynamic as ours. there will be from time to time differences".


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