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Asia Minute

Asia Minute: Australia sets off to repair relations with Pacific Island nations

Australia Politics Labor Party senator Penny Wong
Rick Rycroft/AP
Labor Party senator Penny Wong smiles as she introduces party leader Anthony Albanese at an event in Sydney, Australia, Sunday, May 22, 2022, after Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceding defeat to Albanese in a federal election. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Australia’s new government is approaching the end of its first week in office. And so far, at least one top official has spent more time overseas than in her own country.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong flew to Tokyo on Monday within a few hours of taking her new job.

First up was a meeting with her counterparts and leaders from Japan, India and the United States.

Then it was back to Australia for less than 24 hours before leaving for Fiji.

This trip marks a new chapter in a continuing battle with China for influence in Pacific Island nations.

Wong wasted no time in drawing distinctions, telling an audience Thursday that Australia is “a partner that doesn’t come with strings attached” and “won’t impose unsustainable financial burdens.”

Fiji’s leader will host another Foreign Minister on Monday: China’s Wang Yi.

China’s Foreign Minister is already in the area starting an eight-country trip Thursday in the Solomon Islands.

China has floated a regional security and economic framework covering topics from police training to cyber security cooperation and free trade zones.

Australia’s newly-elected Labor government has promised to push the Pacific region higher on the country’s priority list — along with climate change.

Australia’s Foreign Minister told an audience in Fiji Thursday that under past governments Australia had “neglected its responsibility to act on climate” and said the election shows a “huge groundswell of support for taking real action on the climate crisis in Australia.”

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